My Grenada Grenadines Beach, Gecko and Grenadian girl

Activities    Beaches    Calendar    Diving    Ecology    Exploring    Geography    History   Home  Restaurants & Nightlife    Tourist Offices    Grenada Tours    Travel Tips    Grenada Weddings
Whales & Dolphins    MDDM    Carriacou    Carriacou Hotels    Grenada    Grenada Hotels  Grenadines    Petite Martinique    Petite Martinique Hotels    Grenada Video



Slightly larger in area than the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, at 970,000 sq miles (2,515,900 sq km) is the second largest of the world's major seas (after the South China Sea), but it is by far the deepest, with an average depth of 8,450 feet (2,575 meters). The Greater Caribbean boasts the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean, the Puerto Rico Trench, at 28,374 feet (8,648 meters) deep. It also contains numerous underwater banks, coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, and other diverse marine features

This provides a habitat at least part of the year for some 30 species of whales and dolphins. With the extraordinary diversity and number of islands, islets and cays stretching from northern South America to offshore Florida, there is a considerable diversity of potential whale/ dolphin watch opportunities.
Whale watching began in the wider Caribbean in the early 1980s. Of course, pleasure boaters, sailors and cruise ship passengers have always enjoyed the company of bow-riding dolphins and passing whales around the Caribbean. However, it was the discovery of a friendly and accessible group of spotted dolphins north of Grand Bahama Island in the 1970s that eventually led to the commercialisation of whale watching. At first, whale and dolphin researchers and film crews from around the world began to make special pilgrimages there. Following this, a solid research programme began alongside expanding tourist ventures to watch and swim with the dolphins on 7- to 10-day tours. About the same time, in waters a little farther south, New England humpback whale researchers, using photo-identification of humpback tails to identify the whales, began to realize that most of the North Atlantic humpbacks were spending their winters between the Bahamas-Turks & Caicos and the Dominican Republic. These are the mating and calving grounds of Silver, Navidad and Mouchoir banks. In 1986, as humpback whale watching was just starting up in the Dominican Republic, then president Joaquin Balaguer was persuaded to make a far sighted move: to protect the entire Silver Bank as a marine protected area for humpback whales: The Silver Bank Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary. The 'brand name' recognition that resulted from this effectively kick-started whale watching in the Dominican Republic. The country became known as the place where humpbacks mate, calve and raise their young.

By the early 1990s, the Dominican Republic was attracting more than 15,000 whale watch visitors a year and had become the most popular spot in the Caribbean for whale watching. It still is, although the visitor numbers appear to have levelled off in recent years at about 20,000 per year. In the late 1980s, a third wave of whale watch tourism began in the eastern Caribbean. The little country of Dominica led the way with trips to see resident sperm whales and an exciting array of smaller whales and dolphins, some of them rarely seen by whale watchers anywhere in the world. Since then, whale watching has spread to many of the other islands in the eastern Caribbean and whale watching in each place offers its own character and selling points. Whale watching is eagerly embraced by many island economies around the world that are dependent on tourism because it offers a powerful attraction, additional activity and reason for visitors to come and stay extra days. Islands such as Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands, and Tenerife in the Canary Islands have experienced several hundred thousand visitors a year going whale watching (10-20 times the numbers of the entire Caribbean). Even if whale or dolphin sightings cannot be promised, the chance of seeing them adds value to any marine nature cruise or excursion. This value is not limited to tourism revenues. Whales and dolphins help confer a powerful, attractive identity on many communities and offer an experience that visiting tourists remember, tell their friends about, and return to enjoy themselves. Whales and dolphins also introduce people to the marine environment and help teach stewardship of marine resources. Living on a shrinking planet with a shared ocean, we can all stand to be reminded of this important lesson.

Around Rincón, Puerto Rico, the annual arrival of the humpback whales during the winter provides an exciting community focus, with thousands of land-based whale watchers visiting the Punta Higuera Lighthouse and spending the day at the park. Whales are not the only reason people visit, but they are a key reason during the winter, and park concessions report increases related to whale watching. The whales can be seen from the lighthouse, as well as from various points on the hills around Rincón.



From the Roseau area of Dominica, total revenues, most of which go into the community, have now reached an annual $1 million USD (including food, accommodation, travel, souvenirs, as well as the cost of the tickets themselves).
On the island of Carriacou, in the Grenadines of Grenada, the educational programme of the Kido Project provides a community basis for some of its activities which include whale watching and other marine and land-based programmes.
In and around the town of Samaná, in the Dominican Republic, there are new businesses and infrastructure directly attributable to the increase in visitors during the whale watch season. Community members have started to improve and extend facilities and to encourage land-based whale watching as well. Although much work remains to be done so that local people can receive the maximum benefits from whale watching, it has clearly become part of the essential fabric of the town. Whale watching is having a real impact on local economies in these and other Caribbean locales. At present, however, the West Indies, or Greater Caribbean, is 'lightly developed' for whale watching. The only area that shows development to rival other areas of the world is Samaná Bay. There, in 1998, 21,784 people went whale watching in a three-month season — an average of more than 7,000 people a month. By comparison, whale watching in southern New England and at Tadoussac, Québec, Canada, attracted an estimated 600,000 to 1 million participants over 3-5 months (120,000-333,000 people per month). Thus, the potential for whale watching in the Greater Caribbean is outstanding and largely untapped through most of the region. What is needed, for those islands that might wish to start or enhance their whale watching, is a careful development plan both to learn from some of the mistakes made in other parts of the world, as well as to work on establishing and promoting their own unique brand of whale watching.

  The Bahamas (Commonwealth). The main islands are Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco (Abaco Islands), Bimini Islands, Andros Island, New Providence, Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Exuma, Rum Cay, Long Island, Crooked Island, Acklands Island, Mayaguana Island, and Great Inagua Island. Population: 265,300.
Land area: 13,864 sq km.
Tourist arrivals by air: 1,617,595 (-0.9% on prev. yr.)
Tourist arrivals by cruise ship: 1,743,736 (+3.4% on prev. yr.)

Total Tourist Expenditures: $1,415.9 million USD.
Tourism Budget: $53.9 million USD.
GDP at factor cost: $3,939 million USD.
1994 figures on whale watching: 1,500 people and total revenues of $2.475 million USD.
1998 figures on whale watching: 1,800 people and total revenues of $2.97 million USD (prov.)
Whale-watching ports (current or potential): West End, Grand Bahama; Alice Town, Bimini; Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Great Abaco.
Land-based viewing sites: Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse, Great Abaco; Elbow Cay lighthouse, Great Abaco; North Bimini.
Whale-watching potential: Outstanding. (Figures above are latest figures for 1997, except as noted.)
The Bahamas includes more than 700 islands scattered over more than 100,000 square miles (260,000 sq kms) of ocean. Only 24 of them are inhabited, and the most developed islands are in the northern part of the country, nearest to the United States. These islands, which are where the main dolphin watching/swimming tours occur, both gain and suffer from proximity to the USA. They gain in sheer numbers of tourists who can depart from southeast Florida ports and arrive in the islands in a few hours by boat or less than an hour by plane. But on the negative side, the nearest islands can be crowded with tourists, and the big cruise ships as well as the self-contained boat tours from Florida, such as those used for dolphin watching/swimming, leave comparatively little money in the Bahamas. The Bahamas has certainly captured the interest of great numbers of tourists, but the country does not always capture as much of the tourist dollar as it could. Nevertheless, the revenues are considerable, as is the potential for capturing a higher percentage of them. Tourism is the largest industry in the Bahamas by a substantial measure. In 1996, some 3.4 million vacationers and cruise ship visitors arrived and spent $1.45 billion USD. Nearly half of these (1.6 million) were one or two-day cruise ship stopovers. The Bahamas (mainly Nassau) receives about 50% of all cruise ship passenger visits in the Caribbean. In 1997, these figures (except cruise ship visitors) declined slightly due to refurbishment of hotel properties on Grand Bahamas. Still, the projected number of visitors is 4 million a year by 2000, 80% of which are expected to come from North America, mainly the USA. Since 1992, the government has promoted a huge development programme for tourism, investing in infrastructure as well as overseas promotion. The introduction of laws such as the Hotels Encouragement Act, which eliminated property taxes for hotel owners, has led to substantial new building and restoration, and hotels with as few as five rooms can qualify for preferential treatment. Eco-friendly tourism development in some of the more remote islands is also being encouraged.
Dolphin watching/ swimming began in the late 1970s on Little Bahama Bank. As word spread that the dolphins would visit boats and would not disperse when divers entered the water, cetacean researchers and many enthusiasts from around the world made a pilgrimage here to swim with them. The Bahamas quickly became one of a dozen prime whale and dolphin watching spots in the world. For much of the last two decades, dolphin watching and swimming in the Bahamas has originated mainly with US (Florida-based) operators who make extended diving or swim-with-dolphin excursions into Bahamian waters for a week or ten days. These have been largely self-contained trips, although the boats stop at West End or other Bahamian ports to pay customs fees and take on supplies. The economic impact, besides the sales price of the tour which goes to the (US) operator, includes a night or more in the Bahamas on shore, with a minimum of $130-180 USD spent on food, hotel and shopping. The US boats bringing tourists to the dolphins are charged $1,000 USD plus 4 percent of their passenger income.
The dolphin swimming trips have focused on the waters north of Grand Bahama Island. The relative remoteness of this location and the fact that people need to commit a week or ten days to a trip have helped ensure that the numbers of people and boats have not become a severe management problem, though at times in summer it has been overcrowded and some boat captains are less polite and patient than others. In the past couple years, however, some of existing operators have opened up trips to the Biminis where mainly spotted dolphins and some bottlenose dolphins are found much closer to shore and where boats can operate with greater comfort and flexibility for their customers. This has relieved some of the pressure on the populations of dolphins north of Grand Bahama. The Biminis are also closer to the coast of south-eastern Florida, so trip journeys are shorter from Florida and tour operators have the option of allowing people to stay on shore and take day trips to see the dolphins. This has the potential at least to provide more local income for the Bahamas. In 1998, some operators of the Bahamas swim-with-dolphin trips noticed a slight decline in interest, with fewer people signing up for the trips. Several factors may be involved: As a result, a few operators have recently stopped offering the tours while dive operators have reduced or eliminated the numbers of days visitors can spend with dolphins. Other operators have permanently moved their operations to the Biminis. In addition, some operators have starting shifting the focus of their trips from ecotourism or mainstream tourism to 'human potential' tourism. This niche market is generally respectful toward the wild dolphins, but does little in the way of gathering photo-IDs useful for scientific programmes. In some cases, there is little education beyond 'New Age'-oriented education. It would be beneficial if ecological concepts could also be included and promoted. The other dolphin tours are mostly recreationally oriented, based around diving tours or yachting cruises. Few carry naturalists or scientists or have a substantial educational programme. This needs to be urgently addressed. Denise Herzing, a scientist who carries some passengers on her research-oriented trips north of Grand Bahama, has promoted suggested guidelines for swimming with the dolphins and distributed them through the entry port of West End on Grand Bahama. The Bahamas has vast dolphin watching potential and even some whale watching potential in the 'Out Islands' or, as the Bahamian tourism ministry calls them, the 'Family Islands' (Abacos, Andros, Eleuthera, Cat Island, Ragged Island, Crooked Island, Great Inagua, Mayaguana, etc.) These essentially include all of the Bahamas except the two populated islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama where respectively Nassau and Freeport are located (80% of the population live here). The Family Islands extend out from the somewhat developed Andros, Abacos and Eleuthera, to the far remote and undeveloped southern and eastern parts of the Bahamas. A great deal of work needs to be done in terms of cetacean surveys and in establishing a basic infrastructure before whale or dolphin tourism can be considered, particularly in the more remote areas. The Bahamian Tourism ministry supports the development of these islands and the director-general of tourism has even been quoted as saying that they are the future for tourism in the Bahamas. As of 1997, there were 264,000 tourist arrivals in the Family Islands, a figure which has climbed steadily since 1995, and now represents a 16.3% share of all tourist arrivals to the Bahamas. Currently, Abacos, which is the island adjacent to Grand Bahama, represents the 'frontier' in terms of dolphin watching, so there is still considerable unexplored territory in the Bahamas.

By far the best weather season is summer, with some possibilities for late spring. (Hurricane season is June to November, but the period late August-September usually offers the worst weather conditions.) The dolphins live in the Bahamas all year round but trips cannot be consistently and confidently offered outside of summer. To develop more winter trips in the Bahamas, it would be necessary to offer them as day trips, for dolphin populations that are close to land, and with the flexibility that dolphin trips would only occur when the weather and seas are reasonable  

 This way, if tourists on a week or ten-day trip could build some flexibility in terms of when they would take the trips, it would be possible to have a good chance to see dolphins. Probably the best base for such tourism would be Abacos where some day trips and multi-day dolphin tours have been offered from Marsh Harbor in the past. However, for this to develop into regular tours, a local operator or company would need to set up a base on Abacos (or another island), ideally combining day tours with a partly land-based component. This might be easiest to do on Abacos where there is a known inshore bottlenose dolphin population, as well as others offshore, and the chance to see other whale and dolphin species. For nearly 10 years, Bahamian Diane Claridge's and American Ken Balcomb's Bahamas Marine Mammal Survey, supported largely through Earthwatch, has been based out of Abacos, first at Tilloo Cay and now from Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse. Every year, they have combed the surrounding area, focusing on Northeast and Northwest Providence Channels, the deep passage through the Bahama Banks that connects the open North Atlantic with Florida coastal waters and the Gulf Stream. The long-term goal of this excellent project is to characterise the marine mammals of the Bahamas for both scientific and conservation purposes. Click to see video of spotted dolphins

  They have identified 20 species of cetaceans, including (in order of how commonly they are seen) spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins year round, plus sperm whales, dwarf & pygmy sperm whales, humpback whales, false killer whales, and pilot whales, as well as rare tropical beaked whales.

 The survey has photographically identified the resident population of 90 some bottlenose dolphins off central Abaco, as well as finding five new cetacean species in the islands.

  Most exciting of all is a life-history study on the rare dense-beaked whale which lives in the deep waters offshore. About 100 individual dense-beaked whales have been photo-identified and a number of them have been resighted within the year and from year to year, suggesting that at least some of them are residents.

 Since 1992, an average of 70 EarthCorps volunteers per year have participated in these multi-day educational field study tours for the Bahamas Marine Mammal Survey. Each pays $1,800 USD to participate for 10 days, 80 percent of which covers expenses. In 1996, Claridge and Balcomb started Bahama Naturalist Expeditions and began taking whale watchers on day tours. They escorted 150 people on day tours at a cost of $85 USD per person but the tours stopped after 8 months when they embarked on a new project, moving to the more remote southern tip of Abacos, to Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse. Besides being a good land-based lookout when the waters are calm, Claridge and Balcomb would like to turn it into a well-equipped research station and ecotourist lodge. While they have continued to lead the Earthwatch tours, they are now planning to offer multi-day land-based and marine tours out of splendid Abaco National Park (with its pine and hardwood forests and its native endangered Bahama parrots) which will feature whale and dolphin watching. At present, however, despite in principle agreements made with the Bahamian government, they have been waiting 3 1/2 years to hear whether a lease arrangement can be made for the lighthouse and surrounding land, which would allow them to invest in restoring the existing buildings for the now automated lighthouse. They want to build classrooms for university students, a lab and darkroom for scientific work and low key environmentally-friendly cottages for ecotourists. It would be difficult to find a more worthy plan for this area, or one that would better help to diversify tourism while providing education and science as part of the deal. In other parts of the world such valuable multi-purpose facilities would receive substantial government funding. Also located on Abaco is Marsh Harbour — a centre for boating in the Bahamas, and a good departure point for farther afield and the more remote islands and islets. East of Marsh Harbour, on Elbow Cay, there is another lighthouse with a superb view out on the Atlantic. The town also has a small cetacean museum on Bay St with a map showing whale sightings in nearby waters.
Here are a few highlights and possibilities from some of the various other islands:
Off Andros, humpback whales have been found in Tongue of the Ocean, the deep channel on the eastern side of Andros, in winter. Andros also has dolphins and the third longest reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef and Belize.
At Six Shilling Cay and Egg Island (west of northern Eleuthera), pilot whales have been seen repeatedly.
At Cay Lobos, Guinchos Rock and Orange Cay, in the far southern part of the Bahamas (30 miles from Cuba), fishermen often report sightings of spotted dolphins.
Great Inagua — the most southern of the Bahamas, lying about half way between the Turks and Caicos Islands and Cuba — has a national park, the Inagua National Park, and stunning birdlife with its system of interior lakes. It may also be a good environment for various dolphins and whales, but is as yet unexplored. Humpback whales have been seen passing by the island en route to their breeding grounds north of the Dominican Republic.
Near Long Island and Mayaguana Island in winter, humpback whales are regularly reported.
Cat Island has Mt. Alvernia, the Bahamas highest peak, which offers 360° views over protected inshore waters to the west as well as the open Atlantic to the east — good potential cetacean waters.
But these are just a few leads. The Bahamas has large areas, which remain unsurveyed and unexplored for cetaceans. With two thirds of the Greater Caribbean cetacean species reported here already, the possibilities are outstanding for creating new cetacean-based marine nature trips.
In future, the Bahamas might profitably develop a solid policy toward ecotourism. At present, the image of the Bahamas may be confused by the presence of a number of shore-based captive cetacean facilities which allow visitors to feed and/or swim with captive or what are sometimes called semi-wild dolphins (such as at Sanctuary Lagoon on Grand Bahama and Blue Lagoon Island near Nassau). These facilities have been widely challenged and even condemned by ecotourists, certain scientists and a wide range of NGOs who do not recommend breaking up dolphin families and bringing them into captivity, even if the conditions are by human definition 'semi-wild'. The need to establish regulations and define an ecotourism policy is not unique to the Bahamas; indeed it is a concern throughout the world. It is necessary to have more than just basic laws against animal harassment; what is needed is a comprehensive policy and programme to address these matters. It is a key part of the image building of a country.

Useful Whale and Dolphin links (The article you are reading comes from the wdcs site, and we are grateful for their permission to use it in our Whale and Dolphin section)  (This site has some of the best underwater images I have seen)                                                 

Anguilla  Antigua  Barbados  Bonaire  Cayman  Cuba  Curacao  Dominica
Dominican Republic  Grenada  Guadeloupe  Haiti  Jamaica  Martinique  Montserrat  Netherlands Antilles  Puerto Rico  Saint Martin  St. Kitts & Nevis St. Lucia  St. Vincent
Trinidad & Tobago Turks & Caicos  UK Virgin  US Virgin

Activities  Beaches  Calendar  Diving  Ecology  Exploring  Geography  History  Home  Restaurants & Nightlife  Tourist Offices  Grenada Tours  Travel Tips  Grenada Weddings
hales & Dolphins  MDDM
  Carriacou  Carriacou Hotels  Grenada  Grenada Hotels  Grenadines  Petite Martinique  Petite Martinique Hotels