Zoogeography of Marine Mammals in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


A zoo-geographical analysis of the marine mammals in the waters of Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands was conducted to document the presence of the different species found, and to relate their occurrences to patterns of underwater bottom topography. Past and present knowledge on the biology and life history of the whales, dolphins, manatees and seals inhabiting the northeastern Caribbean are summarized to aid in correcting its actual fragmented and limited nature. A total of 2,776 occurrence records were filed on a specially formatted data base system, and analyzed for distributional and temporal patterns. Species analyzed include the Antillean manatee, and 17 species of cetaceans, including 13 odontocetes, three mysticetes, and the humpback whale. Each species was characterized in terms of its general description and life history, group composition, spatial distribution, temporal distribution, migration and movement, mortality, population estimates and status, and captivity history. In addition, each species was zoo-geographically characterized by depth classes (shelf, shelf edge, or offshore), and by sea floor relief (through the use of a relative slope index measure). The hypothesis that the spatial distribution of marine mammals is highly correlated to the area's bathymetric relief, whether high or low, was generally supported. The possibility that the Caribbean monk seal is not extinct is discussed as part of a review of the natural history of monk seals and the documentation of pinniped occurrences, including captive and escaped California sea lions in waters of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. A list of the published and unpublished, sighting, stranding and captivity records filed in the data base for each species is presented, together with report sheets and directions on how to document sighted and stranded animals.

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