The Return of the Humpback whale ?

7th Apr 2003 When the first whaling stations were being established in Ireland between 1908 and 1914, already up to 1,105 humpback whales had been killed around Cape Verde by the American whaling fleet. Prior to 1867 more voyages by the whaling fleet were made to Cape Verde than the West Indies; after 1867 the vast majority of the humpback whaling voyages were to the West Indies, which implies that by then humpback numbers were severely depleted around Cape Verde; the last reported killing was in 1978.

If the breeding grounds of humpback whales seen around the Irish coast are the Cape Verde Islands, it comes as no surprise that they were already severely depleted by the time historical records of whales around Ireland were being collected; one hundred and fifty years later, perhaps we are seeing some recovery of this decimated stock.

Since 1999, humpback whales have been sighted all around the Cape Verde archipelago from Ponto do Sol in the NW of Santo Antao, around Sao Vincente and Sao Nicolau, throughout the relatively shallow waters of Sal, Boavista and Maio to the islands political capital in Praia on Santiago. Indeed, only two weeks ago a humpback whale and its calf swam into the bay at Praia and caused great excitement as half the city seemed to empty onto the beaches for three hours watching the whales. As Praia is the home of the President of the Cape Verdes and all the Ministeries perhaps there is a message from the whales to those in power!

In Ireland we have recorded more humpback whale sightings in the last three years than the previous thirty years. This may be due to increased effort but humpback whales are turning up in the Firth of Forth in Scotland, the Mediterranean, off the Azores, Canaries and Madeira, suggesting there may indeed be a real increase.

Marine Biodiversity

The government of Cape Verdes has recently signed the Biodiversity Convention and is undertaking an audit of marine biodiversity sites around the archipelago as part of an international collaboration with neighbouring West African states. Biodiversity is a measure of the number of species of plant and animals that live in an area which in the sea includes fish, seaweeds, corals, anemones, jellyfish, turtles and whales. Sites, such as Cape Verde, which may have high species diversity, are being recognised as some of the most important areas in the world and are a priority for conservation.

The governments objective is to identify important sites for designation as marine protected areas. These are seen as essential components of not only national conservation objectives but for economic development. Countries like Cape Verde have a history of exploitation, from the Yankee whalers who killed whales for the benefit of the New England merchants to the British and, more recently Portugese, colonial powers who used the Cape Verde as a staging post for trans-Atlantic crossings and trade routes to the East Indies. It was the opening of the Suez Canal which marginalised the Cape Verde and ultimately precipitated its decline as an economically important colony. In recent years the European Union has obtained fishing rights to Cape Verde and adjacent waters and have distributed fish quotas to mainly Spanish vessels who land the fish into their home ports. The latest overseas influence comes from Japan who has invested capital into fisheries infrastructure such as new ice plants and research projec

A bright future

The Cape Verde government through the National Institute of Fisheries Research (INDP) are now trying to document the marine resources, including whales and dolphins, around the archipelago. Fish stocks are dwindling and alternative sources of income need to be identified to ensure coastal communities survive. Tourism is expanding rapidly and ecotourism, such as whale and turtle watching may provide viable alternatives. Although the Cape Verde is considered the fourth most important site for breeding turtl