Autumn and winter are the best times of the year to spot the most eye-catching mammal in the Brazilian Atlantic Ocean. Due to migratory flows, it is from June onwards that some species of whales that pass along the Brazilian coast start to be seen.
“Whoever sees a whale never forgets, this experience changes anyone’s perception of the world”, says Eduardo Camargo, who is already quite used to seeing whales, still delighted.
Camargo is the general director of the Baleia Jubarte Project, which began in 1988 in the Abrolhos National Marine Park, in Bahia. The humpback likes to appear out of the water: it jumps and amazes tourists. In the project led by Camargo, the whale is the conservation flag for all underwater species in Abrolhos.
“The humpback is Brazilian, it breeds here, it comes for mating. Then it returns to Antarctic regions to feed and returns to our coast to have the young,” explains Camargo. With the conservation, research and environmental education project developed, humpback whales went from a population of 1,500 whales in the 1990s to 25,000 today. The improvement coincides, not by chance, with the creation of the Abrolhos Park in 1983.
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The whale, still heavily hunted around the world, becomes valuable while still alive. On the coast of Bahia, whale watching began at Praia do Forte, about 80 kilometers from the capital Salvador, on the north coast. With a more favorable environment to reproduce and feed, the marine giants also began to occupy the southern coast of Bahia and the coastal area of Espírito Santo, until reaching the coast of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
A haven for marine life and visitors
On the north coast of São Paulo, a scenario of 13 islands forms an archipelago that is also very visited by whales. The Alcatrazes Archipelago Wildlife Refuge is a Conservation Unit dedicated to protecting the necessary conditions for wildlife. There, underwater species live in peace, and it is after this state of tranquility that visitors face 40 kilometers by boat on the open sea to watch the show.
Since opening for visitation, Refúgio de Alcatrazes receives more and more visitors and contributes to the creation of jobs in the tourism area in coastal cities.
“I heard about Alcatrazes, saw pictures and expected it to be a beautiful place. But when I took the tour, I could see the birds of the region, I dived and saw the marine life, I was delighted. It was all wonderful, full of life, colorful. Even with some restrictions, such as not using sunscreen in the water so as not to harm the beings that live there, for example, everything was perfect. Besides, of course, the service we had from everyone, at the inn, on the boardwalk, restaurants. What an incredible place”, says Lúcia Soares, who visited the Refúgio in 2019, and says she always recommends the tour to friends.
Departing from the municipalities of São Sebastião and Ilhabela, it is possible to see the conservation work of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) in one of the first marine conservation areas in the country. In addition to the humpback whale, another more timid species, the Bryde’s whale, can also be observed.
The Estação Ecológica Tupinambás, created in 1987, and the Refúgio de Alcatrazes, in 2016, are side by side on the Brazilian coast and offer the visitor a variety of species of the ecosystem necessary for the existence of humpback whales. Threatened with extinction because they are fish products, rays, snappers and flounder make up the region’s biodiversity.
Head of the two Conservation Units by ICMBio, Kelen Leite explains that in order to guarantee the protection of species, a marine area must meet certain criteria. “It has to be a large and old area, so that the ecosystem can rebuild itself, in addition to being planned, which is our case, because we presented a management plan soon after the creation of the UC”, says Leite. “It is also necessary to involve society: people understand the importance and want to know about it”, he says, praising the participation of the local population and tourists in conservation.
Marine Parks in the fight against climate change
Brazil has three National Marine Parks that do essential conservation work. Because of these refuges free from predatory activities that alter ecosystems, endangered species are protected.
In addition to the Abrolhos National Marine Park (BA), the parks on Ilha dos Currais, in Paraná, and Fernando de Noronha, in Pernambuco, maintain conservation projects allied to the balanced practice of tourism.
In Fernando de Noronha, the humpback whale is also seen in migratory flows. The environmental analyst at the conservation unit, Ricardo Araújo, explains that seeing whales passing through the park is a great sign. “Although they do not live here, it is possible to see more and more whales in the region. A humpback mother with cubs has already stayed here for over a month, being seen by divers and tourists on boat trips,” he reports.
Araújo explains that whales have several functions. Although they do not feed on fish, they serve as food for many species when they die naturally. Another essential function is their bodies’ absorption of greenhouse gases. Instead of releasing the gases into the atmosphere, the whales are able to “immobilize them at the bottom of the sea”, according to Araújo. Among some scientists, whales are known as “ocean forests”.
“The coast of Brazil is almost 7,500 kilometers long, with a huge diversity and only 1.5% of the marine biome was protected. With the É a Hora do Mar campaign, we worked with several institutions for the Brazilian government to create Conservation Units and meet the Aichi Goal 11, which established that at least 10% of the biome be protected by 2020. Then, with the creation of the Trindade and Martin Vaz Natural Monuments and São Pedro and São Paulo, and the São Pedro and São Paulo Environmental Protection Areas and Trindade and Martim Vaz in March 2018, we managed to pass this goal, which today is 26.5 %. Even so, it is necessary to create new marine UCs with particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services”, says Angela Kuczach, executive director of the National Network for Conservation Units.
Brazil has three National Marine Parks that do essential conservation work: endangered species are protected.