Antigua Whales and Dolphins of the Caribbean


Sounds of the Baleen Whale
Baleen Whale

Antigua and Barbuda (UK)
Main Whale section

Land area: 440 sq km.
Tourist arrivals by air: 240,402
Tourist arrivals by cruise ship: 285,502 (+5.6% on prev. yr.)
Total Tourist Expenditures: $269.4 million USD.
GDP at factor cost: $489.3 million USD.
Whale-watching ports (current or potential): St. John's and English Harbour on Antigua.
Land-based viewing sites: Shirley Heights and Indian Creek on Antigua; north of Spanish Point and west coast, Barbuda.
(Figures above are latest figures for 1997, except as noted.)


The State of Antigua and Barbuda, independent since 1981, is a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth. The country includes the main island and well positioned Caribbean air hub of Antigua, the largest of the Leeward Islands, with some of the Caribbean's best direct jet connections to the US east coast, Canada, the UK and Europe. Thirty miles (48 km) north of Antigua is Barbuda, and the country also includes numerous small islands just off the north and east side of Antigua as well as the uninhabited island of Redonda, 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Antigua.


Since the late 1960s when it became clear that sugar production would not support the islands, Antigua has built a solid tourism industry for mid-range and especially upmarket travellers. In 1997, nearly half a million visitors in total arrived, with slightly more cruise ship passengers than air arrivals, and mainly from North America and Britain. As well as its excellent air connections, Antigua is a yachting centre with a profusion of bays, coves and inlets all around the scalloped coast which provide superb sailing anchorages. Every year during 'Sailing Week' in late April, some 200 boats from 25 countries sail into Antigua's English Harbour — the main nautical event in the Caribbean. In September 1995, Hurricane Luis damaged 75% of all homes, with total damage of $375 million US. Some of the damage lingers, yet most hotels and guest houses had reopened within two years. Antigua is mostly deforested and the vegetation today is largely dryland scrub. There are no rivers on the island. Still, the island's marshes and salt ponds boast numerous egrets, ducks, and pelicans. South-western Antigua is volcanic in origin and rises to 1,319 feet (402 m) at Boggy Peak, the island's high point. Most of the rest of the island has open plains and scrubland. More interesting natural wonders are off the main island of Antigua, including some of the islands off the northeast coast.

   Great Bird Island has the fourth largest mangrove system in the Lesser Antilles and the extremely rare Antiguan racer snake. Guiana Island has the largest remaining forests and provides habitat for large colonies of seabirds, including roseate terns, brown noddies, and endangered whistling ducks. In 1997, however, it was announced by Prime Minister Lester Bird that these islands which had been proposed for national park status, were going to be developed as part of a luxury resort, including a 1000-room hotel, casino and golf course. To date, there has been considerable debate about the merits of this plan. Antigua has no dedicated commercial whale or dolphin watching, yet sailing charters, diving and nature tours sometimes encounter cetaceans. There is also some possible land-based cetacean watching. On the south coast, from hilltop venues on Shirley Heights east of English Harbour, humpback whales can sometimes be viewed in winter, as well as, at the mouth of nearby Indian Creek, bottlenose dolphins year-round. Most of the south coast is within 2 miles (3 km) of the 100 fathom (200 m) contour.

Offshore, yachts and other boats have spotted short-finned pilot whales, especially east of Antigua, as well as minke whales. Atlantic spotted dolphins are seen year-round and sometimes accompany the boats. Besides its yachting base, Antigua offers first class diving in its coral canyons and sea caves, with a wide range of marine creatures. There is no doubt that Antigua's greatest natural attractions are in its waters.


The giant coral reef surrounding Antigua and Barbuda is estimated to be as large as 1,000 square miles (2600 sq km), and the expansiveness of this reef means that there are many little explored areas with sharks, barracuda and numerous reef fish species Some sites require long boat trips but are definitely worth investigating. The best and most accessible dive sites are off the south and west coasts. However, these may be notoriously spare of marine life; at least one international travel guide (Fielding) has complained that the government doesn't actively enforce the fishing ban within national marine parks, which has affected some of the more popular sites. Compared to Antigua, Barbuda is a quiet, undeveloped island with less than 2% of the country's population. Visitors to this low-lying coral island tend to be bird watchers, divers or those visiting on yachts from Antigua who want a beach to themselves. Barbuda is also accessible by ferry or by a short flight from Antigua. Barbuda's Codrington Lagoon has the largest frigate bird colony in the Lesser Antilles — this as well as the generally undeveloped nature of Barbuda attract the more outdoors or ecologically-minded tourist.


The best time for bird watchers to visit is mating season from October to February. Along the west coast of Barbuda, from February to April, humpback whales are sometimes seen passing. Year round, from the southeast coast, north of Spanish Point, Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins can sometimes be seen inshore in Pelican Bay. This land point is the closest to deep water on the island — approximately 4 miles (6.4kms) to the 100 fathom (200 m) contour. With the number of sightings from land on both Antigua and Barbuda, land-based nature tours that include cetaceans may well be possible in future, although land-based whale watching does not usually have a substantial economic element unless the cetaceans are very close or if boat-based whale watching is also part of the industry. It's worth keeping in mind that with the large number of ocean-going sailboats, the effective range for whale and dolphin watching might well be extended further offshore than in many other areas of the Caribbean. It could be worthwhile for cetacean surveys to be commissioned farther afield around the islands throughout the year, to determine if there are predictable locations and times. If there are, Antigua and Barbuda would provide an ideal opportunity to develop several kinds of whale/dolphin watching: Antigua, the yacht based upper end of the market, and Barbuda, the ecotouristic side.

Acknowledgments: Nathan Gricks, Bendure and Friary 1998, Swanson and Garrett 1998,


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