Although most people are not aware of it, there are dolphins and whales in Yucatán. Dolphins are known locally as “bufeos” because of the sound they make when they come to the surface to breathe; and although they are not visible all year, in the summertime they can be seen from the beach very early in the morning. The whales which inhabit Yucatán waters belong to the smaller species. This is because the extensive coastal platform is quite shallow (less than 200 m). This is why the larger whales are not often seen, although they can be seen in areas where the depth is greater than 500 m.

Among the dolphin species which can be seen are the speckled, the bottle-nose, the spinner, and the rough-toothed dolphins. You can also see the grey or Risso’s dolphin, with its characteristic dark grey body covered with linear scars. Dolphins tend to follow fishing boats in hopes of free food handouts, but rarely approach the shore. Although it is prohibited, there are still some practices in the shark fishing industry where dolphins are captured and used as shark bait.

The whales which tend to be more visible in Yucatecan waters are the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, false killer whales, and pilot whales. They avoid coming close to boats and surface only to breathe, so they are rarely seen. The pilot whales and false killer whales tend to form large groups, but the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales form small groups.

Besides dolphins and whales, Yucatán once had other marine mammals: the Caribbean monk seal is now extinct, but when the Spaniards arrived to the region it was abundant and aggressively hunted until it disappeared. The last Mexican population was seen at Alacranes Reef in 1972. The Caribbean manatee was also abundant in this region. It was captured as a source of meat and its fat was used for making candles, its skin for leather, and it was believed that its bones had magical properties. Although there are still manatee populations off the coasts of the peninsula, these are found in Campeche and Quintana Roo rather than in Yucatán; our waters have become a transit zone for this species, and not a residential zone.

Marine mammals have a very important role in the marine ecosystem : they mirror the changes suffered by the ocean and the coast long before they begin to affect humans. It is for this reason that their study and conservation are important, and to be able to conserve them, it is necessary to know and understand them first. La Red de Varamientos de Yucatán AC (REVAY) is a non-profit association which is dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals in Yucatán through the study of their populations and attention to beached animals, in order to establish a sentry system of ocean health which permits us to identify susceptible changes which can affect humans.

By: Diana Antochiw

Red de Varamientos de Yucatán AC.

[email protected]

Cel. 044 (999) 148 4577

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