Sea creatures abound

Whales, dolphins, mantas spotted

A 25-foot-long whale shark and pods of spotted dolphins and killer whales are among the almost 50 reports of sightings of large marine animals in Cayman over the past year.

Killer whales

Killer whales spotted at East End in July last year.
Photo by Nick Jones

Since the Department of Environment began a marine animal sighting project in August 2008, members of the public and dive operators have reported sightings of whales, sharks, dolphins, manta rays and large turtles.

The department set up the spotting programme after a rare sighting of a pod of 10 killer whales off East End in July last year.

‘[This] highlighted the need for an organised database of migratory marine mammal sightings in the Cayman Islands,’ said Janice Blumenthal, research office at the Department of Environment.

‘Killer whales are occasionally present in the Caribbean but sightings are very rarely recorded and important to document,’ she said.

Since then, people have reported two sightings of pods of Atlantic spotted dolphins – one of 100 animals and another of 10, as well as five sightings of bottlenose dolphins. There have also been two sightings of beaked whales, in groups of four or five.

A massive immature whale shark, about 25 feet long, was spotted on Christmas Eve last year at Orange Canyon at the West Wall when it cruised by staff and customers from Wall to Wall Divers at a depth of 50 feet, about 100 feet off the edge of the wall.

Strandings are also recorded and have includeed one of a 14-foot Gervais’ beaked whale at Barkers. The animal died of a broken jaw.

An 18-foot male calf sperm whale has also been reported; the animal was found dead on a shallow reef in Little Cayman in June.

Members of the public have made reports of 16 sightings of manta rays with wingspans of up to 10 feet to the Department of Environment’s sighting programme.

In January, a fisherman reported that a six gill shark was pulled up alive from a depth of 1,100 feet off George Town. It swam off disoriented and staff of Off the Wall Divers later found it dead at Cheeseburger Reef on 24 January, Ms Blumenthal said.

Turtles are still a relatively common sight for divers, and there have been 12 sightings of adult loggerheads, hawksbills, and green turtles with shells greater than three feet in shell length, as well as observations of breeding.

‘Juvenile turtles are resident here year round – rare adult turtles are typically only in our waters during the breeding and nesting season from April to November,’ said Ms Blumenthal.

The Department of Environment acts as a clearing house for the information received from the public on the sightings and contributes to regional sighting databases, such as the Caribbean Stranding Network.

‘It is hoped that the project will allow DoE to assess the importance of Cayman Islands waters for marine animals and contribute information on migratory routes to Caribbean initiatives,’ Ms Blumenthal said.

Reports were received from members of the public and dive operations, particularly Ocean Frontiers, Dive Tech, Off the Wall Diving, Wall to Wall Diving, and Eden Rock, she said.

The public can report sightings by calling 949-8469 or by e-mailing [email protected].

‘Killer whales are occasionally present in the Caribbean but sightings are very rarely recorded and important to document.’

Janice Blumenthal, research office at the Department of Environment

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