Population estimate and inter-island movement of sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus, in the Eastern Caribbean Sea

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Shane Gero
Jonathan Gordon
Carole Carlson
Peter Evans
Hal Whitehead


When a population extends across international boundaries, management becomes more complex. This is especially true within a confined multinational area such as the Caribbean Sea. The population size of sperm whales in the Eastern Caribbean is estimated and the inter-island movements of individuals are quantified using a database of 1,394 photographic identifications taken between 1984 and 2006 by several research groups. A total of 194 individual sperm whales were identified off the leeward coasts of the islands of Dominica, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Lucia and Martinique. Population size was estimated using two-component finite mixture models. About 145 (95% CI=94- 219) sperm whales used Lesser Antillean waters in 1995 and this population appears to be growing slowly. There are differences amongst the individuals in their probability of identification. Of all individuals, 57 (29.4%) were identified during more than one year between 1995 and 2006. Long-term reidentification of associated females suggests that social units may be using the area for periods of at least 11 years. Twenty seven confirmed matches were made between islands, the majority (92.6%) of which were between Guadeloupe and Dominica, although there were two longer movements by single individuals between Dominica and the islands of St. Lucia and Grenada. High reidentification rates within the Lesser Antilles and no matches with identifications from nearby seas suggest the population in the Eastern Caribbean Sea is small and quite isolated. As such, we recommend that management actions be taken on a multi-island basis for the Eastern Caribbean, by encouraging the ratification of the SPAW protocols and that the current stock classification for the North Atlantic be reconsidered.

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