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SISTER SANCTUARIES TO PROTECT ENDANGERED WHALES
AT BOTH ENDS OF ANNUAL MIGRATION
United States and Dominican Republic Partner in Historic Conservation Effort

NOAA image of humpback whale breaching in the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which is one of the acrobatic behaviors that whale watchers enjoy seeing.Jan. 29, 2007 NOAA established a "sister sanctuary" arrangement between the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts and the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic, two marine protected areas 1,500 miles apart that provide conservation programs for the same population of humpback whales. (Click NOAA image for larger view of humpback whale breaching in the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which is one of the acrobatic behaviors that whale watchers enjoy seeing. Whale watching is a major ecotourism industry in both the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The initiative is the world's first sister sanctuary linkage protecting an endangered migratory marine mammal species on both ends of its range. Both sanctuaries provide critical support for the same population of around 900 whales, which spend spring and summer in the rich feeding grounds of Stellwagen Bank before heading south to the warmer waters of the Dominican Republic in late fall to mate and give birth to their young. The sister sanctuary agreement was designed to enhance coordination in management efforts between the two sanctuaries and help improve humpback whale recovery in the north Atlantic.

NOAA image of humpback whale migration route between the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic."Long-term research tells us that the same individuals that summer off New England spend their winters off the Dominican Republic," said NOAA Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary superintendent Craig MacDonald. "Coordinating management and research across these habitats moves us several steps closer to ensuring the health of this endangered species." (Click NOAA image for larger view of humpback whale migration route between the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

As sister sanctuaries, the two sites will explore new avenues for collaborative management efforts, including joint research, monitoring, education and capacity building programs. The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program anticipates that the relationship will be crucial to future protection of the north Atlantic humpback whale population, as well as to the development of further cooperative agreements.

"The sister sanctuary relationship will play a powerful role in protecting endangered humpback whales, and the opportunity for international cooperation in marine conservation is invaluable," said Daniel J. Basta, NOAA sanctuary program director. "This agreement has the potential to improve our scientific knowledge, enhance our management ability and increase the program's visibility—benefits that extend far beyond the sanctuaries involved."

NOAA image of humpback whale in the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary with a bubble net, which are often employed to contain schools of small fish, like sand lance. The whale then comes up through the net to catch the fish.The official memorandum of understanding to create the sister sanctuary relationship was signed by Basta and Maximiliano Puig, minister for the environment and natural resources for the Dominican Republic. The sister sanctuary agreement goes into effect immediately and establishes the cooperation guidelines for the next five years. (Click NOAA image for larger view of humpback whale in the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary with a bubble net, which are often employed to contain schools of small fish, like sand lance. The whale then comes up through the net to catch the fish. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

"This conservation action is important as a model for the wider Caribbean region," said Puig. "Our sanctuary was the first marine mammal sanctuary established in the region, and it continues to lead by example. Our broadest mandate is to engender a new discussion in our society about the importance of marine mammals, the oceans in which they live and our responsibility as ocean stewards."

NOAA image of humpback whale in the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which can engulf massive amounts of water as it feeds in the sanctuary.The NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 842 square miles of ocean, stretching between Cape Ann and Cape Cod offshore of Massachusetts. Renowned for its scenic beauty and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary supports a rich assortment of marine life, including marine mammals, more than 30 species of seabirds, more than 60 species of fishes, and hundreds of marine invertebrates and plants. (Click NOAA image for larger view of humpback whale in the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which can engulf massive amounts of water as it feeds in the sanctuary. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America's marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

In October 1986, the "Silver Bank Humpback Whale Sanctuary" was established in the Dominican Republic to protect the mating, calving and nursery grounds of humpback whales. In 1996, the sanctuary was extended to include Navidad Bank and part of Samana Bay, covering the three main humpback breeding grounds in Dominican waters. At this time the sanctuary was renamed Santuaria de Mamiferos Marinos de la Republica Dominicana (Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic), or SMMRD in Spanish. Today, the SMMRD protects all marine mammals within its 19,438-square-mile area. Within the sanctuary, Silver Bank, located approximately 50 miles northeast of the Dominican Republic coast in the Caribbean Sea, represents the densest concentration of humpbacks found in the north Atlantic.

Created in the year 2000 by the merger of more than ten institutions, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is one of the young ministries of the Dominican Republic. Its mission is to protect and manage the country's environment and natural resources with the objective of reaching sustainable development. Every year, during the humpback whale observation period of January to March, the ministry establishes an agreement with local and governmental institutions to promote tourism, marine and business activities within the sanctuary that do not affect the habitat and reproductive cycle of the mammals. This initiative is the result of the ministry's policy for an open, democratic and participative management based on the cooperation and strategic alliances between the state, local communities, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program

NOAA Ocean Service

NOAA Ocean Portal

Media Contact:
Anne Smrcina, NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, (781) 738-2242

(Photos courtesy of Anne Smrcina and David Wiley of the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.)