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Population: 11,066,300.
Land area: 110,860 sq km.
Tourist arrivals by air: 1,170,100 (+16.5% on prev. yr.)
Tourist arrivals by cruise ship: 2,000.
Total Tourist Expenditures: $1,500 million USD.
Tourism Budget: $1.5 million USD.
GDP at factor cost: $14,572 million USD.
1994 figures on whale watching: Nil.
1998 figures on whale watching: Nil.
Whale-watching ports (current or potential): Las Martinas, Júcaro, Varadero, Cayo Congrecho.
Land-based viewing sites: Limited information.
Whale-watching potential: Moderate to considerable
(Figures above are latest figures for 1997, except as noted.)

Cuba is the most westerly and by far the largest of the Caribbean islands. Surrounding the main island of Cuba, and part of the Republic of Cuba, are many hundreds of islets and cays. Located just 140 miles (225 kms) south of the peninsula of Florida, and even closer to the Florida Keys, Cuba is, after 40 years of relative isolation from American influence, a world away. In tourism terms this can be both an asset (unspoilt, unique character) and a liability (lack of infrastructure in some areas). Due to its size and its comparative lack of development, as well as considerable reforestation efforts since the 1959 revolution, Cuba has the greatest species diversity in the West Indies and the most endemics or unique species. This applies to both land and marine areas, as Cuba's extensive wetlands and mangrove forests give it a vast, remarkable coastline — the longest coastline in the Caribbean. Thus there are certainly many areas around the country where dolphins and possibly near shore whale populations can be found. To date, however, there are no dedicated dolphin- or whale-watching tours in Cuba, and no comprehensive cetacean surveys of Cuban waters. Certainly most of the species found in the Greater Antilles, as well as those that have turned up in Gulf of Mexico surveys, are likely to be found around Cuba (see Schmidly 1981, Mignucci 1989, Jefferson and Lynn 1994, Mignucci-Giannoni 1998, and especially Ward et al in prep.). This includes at least 15 species of cetaceans, nearly the same diversity found in the Bahamas. Historically, sperm whales were caught in large numbers in the Straits of Florida which separate Cuba from Florida and this area was also singled out as a prime cetacean area on Jefferson and Lynn's 1991 survey. Also, bottlenose dolphins have been captured over the past few decades around Cuba, often in inshore waters, for local and foreign aquariums. For example, various bottlenose dolphins currently held in Europe (in Spain and France) and Latin America (in the Dominican Republic and Mexico), came from Cuba, and other dolphins captured in local waters are locally exhibited. At present, dolphin watching in Cuba means going to an aquarium — such as the facility at Varadero, 75 miles (120 kms) east of Habana on the coast, with its swim-with-captive-dolphins programme — and if you ask Cubatur (the Cuban national tourism agency) about dolphins, this is the only information provided. One of the candidate areas for starting dolphin watching found by Doug Cartlidge on a recent trip is at Cayo Congrecho, on the northeast coast, which is also one of the main dolphin capture areas. There appear to be a number of 'resident' pods of bottlenose dolphins in the area. The largest local diving company, based in Varadero, has considered dolphin watching tours, but is yet to be convinced of the market for such tourism. The situation may be complicated, in terms of promoting wild dolphin tourism, because the military owns one of the main dolphin facilities and appears to have an interest in promoting captive dolphin tourism. Probably diving companies will be the easiest and most direct route for starting such tours as part of or as extensions of existing diving tours, although there are other possibilities too. Fishing trips to Jardines de la Reina, a group of islands south of Cuba, for example, regularly encounter dolphins. Departure port is usually the fishing village of Júcaro. Dolphins are also commonly seen in large numbers in the Archipiélago de los Canarreos, off south western Cuba, due south of Habana. In terms of large whales, sperm whales were seen in June in great number by Hal Whitehead close to shore in the Yucatán Channel off Cabo San Antonio off the western tip of Cuba, east off Cabo Corrientes and Cabo Francés. In this area, the 100 and 900 fathom contours (200-1800 meters) come very close to shore. The nearest port is Las Martinas, more than 150 miles (240 kms) southwest of Habana. Further studies would be needed to see how long the whales stay around and if they are accessible in good weather. In 1996, representatives from WDCS visited Cuba to look at the dolphin capture operations and met officials from the Ministry of Environment, the National Protected Areas Centre, aquarium personnel, and others. They encountered some enthusiasm over the idea of starting whale watch tours. In particular, Antonio Perera Puga, the Director of CITMA (Centre Nacional de Areas Protegidas), is working on a marine protected area which includes one of the prime bottlenose dolphin areas where the captures have occurred. He was very interested in developing responsible ecotourism, and expressed some alarm at the Varadero development with its captive swim with dolphin programme. Others have pointed out that it has developed too fast and is in urgent need of control. The average annual growth rate in terms of numbers of tourists is the highest in the Caribbean over the period 1992-1997 — 20.5%. It remains for some far sighted entrepreneur, NGO, or international scientist to work with the local researchers at the University of Habana to do more research and start whale or dolphin watch tours, perhaps in partnership with existing diving companies. The market for such tours would be tourists from Canada, Europe, or Latin America — as US tourists are still not normally allowed to visit Cuba. When that does change, Cuba's tourism can be expected to grow even more, and it cannot be long before dolphin watching starts.

Acknowledgements: Niki Entrup, Doug Cartlidge, Sarah Cameron, Chris Stroud, Kate O'Connell, Hal Whitehead (Dalhousie University), Jonathan Watts (Canada-Cuba Sports & Cultural Festivals), Antonio Perera Puga, the Director of CITMA (Centre Nacional de Areas Protegidas), Schmidly 1981, Mignucci 1989, Jefferson and Lynn 1994, Mignucci- Giannoni 1998, Ward et al in prep, CTO 1997.

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