When one thinks of the Bermuda triangle, usually the first thoughts that come to mind are missing planes and vanishing ships. For years things mysteriously just seemed to disappear in that region of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Although most of the mysteries behind the Bermuda triangle have been proven to be inaccurate – it is still part of our ocean lore. Now the area that has been known to make things vanish may be deemed as a new sanctuary for one of the most majestic creature on earth. The humpback whale which is ironically also vanishing unless more conservation is done to preserve this magnificent creature.
Recently, in an agreement between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bermuda Department of Environmental Protection a new sister sanctuary to the NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary will be established.
The sister sanctuary would not be the first for Stellwagen Bank, located in the Gulf of Maine, and its humpback whales. Beginning in 2007, Stellwagen established the world’s first sister sanctuary with the Dominican Republic’s Santuario de Mamiferos Marinos de la República Dominicana to protect the endangered migratory marine mammal on both ends of its range.
Currently, there are five distinct populations of humpback’s in the North Atlantic, with Stellwagen Bank being the feeding grounds for one of the groups. The other four are off the coasts of Nova Scotia, Norway, Greenland and Iceland. Down in the Caribbean, the whales mingle during breeding season, and one of the largest congregation spots is off the coast of the Dominican Republic.
The new sanctuary will protect the whales during their migration process. which will be the first marine mammal sanctuary to offer such a waypoint
“This is a first step in putting together conservation stepping-stones throughout their migration,” said Nathalie Ward, coordinator of the Sister Sanctuary Program for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
When the Bermuda sanctuary is established, hopefully by the end of this year, NOAA will issue a memorandum of understanding to exchange data that will include photos of the whales and coordinate research, education and strategies for engaging locals in whale conservation. The massive creatures are threatened not only from direct human pressures, such as ship strikes or fishing net entanglement, but also indirect pressures such as pollution and ocean noise.
“The goal is to grow the family of sanctuaries throughout the Caribbean,” Ward said. NOAA is currently negotiating memorandums of understandings with the French Antilles and some Dutch territories in the eastern Caribbean.
“If we don’t have protection in different parts of the humpback’s range,” Ward said, “it’s going to impact our population.”
These sanctuaries help in the research of the whales habits and to where they spend most of their time. Research done in Stellwagen Bank has allowed researchers to propose a shift in the shipping lane by 12 degrees that could reduce whale strikes by 81 percent.
This kind of information in other regions could potentially help eliminate whale strikes by ships. Also, there is the potential to boost local economies by establishing whale watching tours and other tourism efforts that go along with having a whale sanctuary nearby.
“This is really a pioneering program,” Ward said. “The expansion of our Sister Sanctuary Program will play a powerful role in protecting endangered humpback whales, and the opportunity for international cooperation in marine conservation is invaluable.”
It looks like the mysterious Bermuda Triangle just might become known as a place that helps things appear instead of disappear. With ongoing efforts maybe one day the humpback whale can thrive again and be taken off the endangered species list.
Photo Credit: Adrian Midgley