The Bermuda Marine Mammal Sanctuary covers more than 170,000 square nautical miles. *Photo by Andrew Stevenson
The Bermuda Marine Mammal Sanctuary covers more than 170,000 square nautical miles. *Photo by Andrew Stevenson

FRIDAY, SEPT. 21: Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone was made a Marine Mammal Sanctuary under official legislation yesterday, with an emphasis on the endangered humpback whale.

Environment Minister Marc Bean made the announcement today following a decision approved by Cabinet last month, and in line with Government’s commitment in 2010 to support the Sargasso Sea Alliance.

The Bermuda Marine Mammal Sanctuary covers more than 170,000 square nautical miles and is circular in shape with Bermuda at its centre. The minister emphasized that the protection of whales and cetaceanswill not effect fishing practices in Bermuda.

As a result of ongoing diplomatic efforts by the Sargasso Sea Alliance, steps were taken last year to form a partnership with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary which is administered by the US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The bank is a 638-square-nautical-mile sanctuary at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay known for its excellent whale watching.

Within Bermuda's EEZ, Humpback Whales are already protected by two pieces of Bermuda legislation — the Fisheries Act 1972 which protects all species of whales, and the Protected Species Act 2003 which gives specific protection to whale species that are considered threatened.

The endangered Atlantic humpback whale population feeds in the northern grounds in the summer and returns to the Caribbean for the winter calving season. Many of these whales have been identified by their unique tail fins both here and at Stellwagen Bank.

In the past six years some 673 individual humpback whales have been identified here by the Humpback Whale Project Bermuda, many of which match flukes identified in the southern calving grounds and northern feeding grounds.

Some of the matches go back 35 years and this is the largest database of fluke IDs of migrating whales in the middle of the ocean obtained anywhere.

Consequently, on June 30th last year, a letter of intent to build a model for international cooperation was signed with representatives from NOAA as a first step towards establishing this formal partnership agreement with the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary in the interest ofextending protection for the endangered humpback whale.

Minister Bean said: “The formal declaration of the Bermuda Sanctuary means that Bermuda can now establish a “Sister Sanctuary” agreement with Stellwagen Bank. The Bermuda Government has today signed this collaboration agreement.

“The establishment of this Marine Mammal Sanctuary and the conclusion of the agreement with Stellwagen Bank will protect, and assist in the global recovery of these, endangered species; promote and encourage research into and monitoring of this iconic species while consequently promoting Bermuda as an important hot spot for whale watching.”