Yesterday hunting area, today whaling ecotourism site
An American whaler “Charles C. Morgan” came to Antongil Bay around the middle of the 19th century. One of his travelers immortalized in his journal, his memory of the bay. He noted there: “The bay of Antongil was a huge and wide bay …… it was a very splendid site … the beautiful trees with their foliage bordered it, they were just natural …. Humpback whales gave birth there in areas a mile from the coast. ”
Marine mammals marked the civilizations of several societies from different countries of the Northern Hemisphere. The development of the trading system at the time encouraged their hunting and exploitation, to reduce them from 125,000 to 35,000 at present.
The seas of Madagascar were of strategic importance for the hunting of humpback whales, (Megaptera novaeangliae) during the 19th century and even at the beginning of the 20th century. Indeed, the periodic passages of the humpback whales in Antongil Bay, aroused the interests of hunters as early as 1850. It thus became one of the predilection areas for whale hunting towards the end of the 19th century.
With an area of 2800Km2, Antongil Bay is the largest bay on the east coast of Malagasy. The impressions of the traveler on the ship “Morgan” a little over a century ago are still a reality for Antongil Bay. The environment remains much the same; it is at the heart of the unique and large forest heritage that remains in Madagascar, the Masoala National Park and the Makira forests.
Antongil Bay is one of the most important whale breeding areas in the western Indian Ocean region. They do not miss their annual meeting from July to September during the southern winter season. These whales embark on a long journey to the tropics after feeding well in the polar regions.
Whales, particularly males, animate Antongil Bay during this period. The absolute silence and calm of the bay are often interrupted by the loud noises of their breaths, their spectacular behaviors (breakthrough, striking of the tail, pectoral fin and head) and the songs of the males. The bay serves as a cradle and nursery for the calves who are under the attentive and constant care of the mother.
The whales by their spectacular behavior still attract few people, because the site is little known and suffers from the difficulty of getting there, unlike Ste Marie Island. This phenomenon constitutes a valuable ecotourism potential. The ecotourism activity of whale watching, if it is governed by regulations, is recognized worldwide as an industry which protects cetacean populations in the long term. The Indian Ocean being declared a whale sanctuary, the promotion of this activity constitutes a significant source of income for the local community as well as a means to protect the whales.
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Cetacean Research and Conservation Program (WCS) is cooperating with groups of tourism operators in Antongil Bay to strengthen the effort to conserve and enhance whales.