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WHALES AND DOLPHIN WATCHING IN BARBADOS


Barbados
Population: 265,350.
Land area: 431 sq km.
Tourist arrivals by air: 472,290 (+5.6% on prev. yr.)
Tourist arrivals by cruise ship: 517,888 (+1.6% on prev. yr.)
Total Tourist Expenditures: $717 million USD.
Tourism Budget: $16.4 million USD.
GDP at factor cost: $1,785.7 million USD.
Whale-watching ports (current or potential): Limited information.
Land-based viewing sites: Limited information.
Whale-watching potential: Minimal.
(Figures above are latest figures for 1997, except as noted.)


Barbados is a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth, fully independent since 1966. With a high standard of living and very high literacy rate (98%), Barbados has long offered a reliable high standard of tourism comfort and enjoyment. Tourism is the largest industry, though sugar production (including the by-products of molasses and syrup-rum) is a mainstay along with light manufacturing. At 166 square miles (430 sq km), Barbados is a relatively small island 21 miles (34 km) long from north to south and 14 miles (23 km) wide and it is densely populated. Although there are extensive sugar cane fields, Barbados is the second most populous island in the Eastern Caribbean and the island capital at Bridgetown is a major commercial centre and Caribbean port, part of the reason the island is called 'Gateway to the West Indies'. The other reason is its unique location.

The most easterly island in the West Indies, Barbados lies nearly 100 miles (160 km) outside the main string of the Windward Islands. Unlike the other Windwards which are mostly volcanic, Barbados is a low-lying island made up entirely out of coral reefs, the limestone base having built up over thousands of years. As well, the island is surrounded by barrier coral reefs. Until the last few decades, Barbados tourism has rarely looked beyond the beautiful beaches. According to Fielding's Caribbean, the preoccupation with maintaining its commercial needs (new hotel building, pollution from light industry, dynamite fishing, allowing boats to anchor anywhere) have ruined parts of the inner reefs.


 

 However, in 1994, a local association of dive shops started a 'Rescue the Reefs' programme, and to date they have achieved a better system of permanent moorings and the creation of a marine protected area in Carlisle Bay. The outer parts of the reefs are still intact, so with continued conservation, the resource should improve. Most of the diving is wreck diving, based off the protected south and west coast (the north and east are exposed to the open North Atlantic). In the autumn there is some Atlantic diving, depending on weather and water conditions.


In most parts of the Caribbean, diving operations encounter dolphins and whales commonly or at least with some regularity. But Barbados' diving operations rarely find sharks and don't even mention dolphins and whales. The manager of one of the larger operations, Willie Hewitt of Hightide Water sports in St. James, Barbados, reports seeing humpback whales in late March, but says that such sightings occur only once a year or less; dolphins too are seen infrequently. There are a number of marine cruises, including small sailboat cruises and even submarine tours

 

 

 of the coral reefs. These mainly stay within the reefs, although sailboat trips do encounter dolphins more often outside the reefs.
It may be that offshore survey work would produce more sightings, but at present diving and small boat cruise operations find little or nothing to recommend the possibility of future whale or dolphin watch tours. It would be possible to develop whale and dolphin watching as part of various day tours already offered from Barbados  to Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique and Dominica, which start


with a short early morning flight and could include existing whale watching tours from any of the above islands (see country descriptions in this report for more information). There is an inter-island ferry service, the 180-foot (55 mtr) M.V. Windward, operated by the privately owned Windward Lines Limited. The ferry travels regularly between Barbados and Venezuela via St. Vincent and Trinidad, with special weekend trips to St. Lucia and Bequia.
Acknowledgments: Swanson and Garrett 1998, Barbados Tourism Authority, WillieHewitt (Hightide Watersports), Calvin Howell (CCA), CTO 1997.

 

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