Gorgona-Tribugá-Malpelo IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

144 510 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata 

Criterion B (1)

Common bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops truncatus 

Criterion B (1)

Humpback whale – Megaptera novaeangliae

Criterion C (1)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Criterion D (2)

Physeter macrocephalus, Stenella coeruleoalba, Delphinus delphis, Grampus griseus, Steno bredanensis, Peponocephala electra, Pseudorca crassidens, Globicephala macrorhynchus, Kogia sima, Balaenoptera edeni

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This area encompasses the Colombian Pacific coastline between Sanquianga National Park in the south, and extends to Cupica Gulf at the north. It also includes the offshore Malpelo Ridge area to the west. This is an area of high species diversity of marine mammals, with 18 odontocete and two mysticete species occurring regularly, including the Vulnerable (VU) sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Additionally, this area serves as wintering habitat important for reproduction and migration of the Southern Hemisphere population of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae australis), referred to as ‘Breeding Stock G’ by the International Whaling Commission. It also hosts small resident populations of common bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) and pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata). The area is under pressure from a range of human activities that can present a considerable risk for marine mammals.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion B1: Small and Resident Populations

Common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are frequently observed in both coastal and offshore waters of the Colombian Pacific (encounter rates of 3.48/1,000 km; Palacios et al., 2012). Although most groups have been reported to comprise between six and 20 individuals, mostly in nearshore habitat (<1 km from shore), the mean group size for the entirety of Colombian Pacific waters is 25 individuals, ranging between one to 300 individuals (Palacios et al., 2012). It is common to observe groups with neonates and calves, which suggests the reproduction of this species in the area (Avila et al., 2013). Activities documented for this species included feeding, socializing, resting, and slow transit (Avila et al., 2013; Van Waerebeek, et al., 2017). Distribution of this species is concentrated in the Gulf of Tribugá at north and Malpelo Ridge to the west (Herrera et al., 2011; Palacios et al., 2012). Resident groups have been documented particularly in Malpelo Island (offshore waters) and Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park (coastal waters) (Herrera et al., 2011; Avila et al., 2013; Chávez et al., 2018), which could be supported by prey availability. The pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata) is also commonly observed in costal and offshore waters (encounter rates of 3.08 groups/100 h in Malpelo Island; Herrera et al., 2011), with an overall encounter rate of 2.29 groups/1000 km for the Colombian EEZ (Palacios et al., 2012). Pantropical spotted dolphins have often been observed in groups of up to 500 individuals (Valencia, 2006), with an average group size of 22 individuals (Avila et al., 2013). It is common to observe groups with neonates and calves, and a crude birth rate of 0.16 (proportion of calves with respect to the total number of individuals, including calves) has been calculated for the population in Gorgona National Natural Park in years 2003-2004 (Flórez-González et al., 2004). Spotted dolphins have been observed both traveling and feeding in this area (Valencia, 2006). This species has been reported mainly in coastal waters, particularly in Utría National Natural Park, Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park, and Gorgona Island, where photo-identification studies have established year-round residency (Flórez-González & Capella, 2001; Valencia, 2006; Avila et al., 2013). In Gorgona and Uramba Bahía Málaga, the species has been observed feeding (Rengifo et al., 1995; Londoño, 2005; Valencia, 2006), which could explain their residency patterns. It has been also reported in offshore waters showing habitat suitability (based on Maxent ecological niche modelling) for both coastal and offshore areas (Chávez, 2018; Pino, 2021).

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas

The Southern Hemisphere humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae australis) is a cosmopolitan and migratory cetacean that annually migrates to Colombian waters between May and December to reproduce, give birth and raise its calves (Avila et al., 2020). This population corresponds to IWC Breeding Stock G (BSG), which feeds in summer in southern Chile and the western Antarctic Peninsula, whilst reproduces in winter in tropical waters of the eastern tropical and south Pacific, including Colombia (Stone et al., 1990; Rasmussen et al., 2007). Humpbacks are distributed mainly in Bahía Málaga (3°56’N, 77°25’W), Gorgona Island (02º58‟N, 78º11‟W), and Tribugá Gulf (5°47’N, 76°41’W), but also there are sightings at Malpelo Island and surroundings (4°00′N 81°36′W) (Herrera et al., 2011; Palacios et al., 2012; Acevedo et al., 2017). Based on photo-identification techniques, 857 different individuals were identified in Bahía Málaga in the 1990s, and 1366 were identified in 2003 around Gorgona Island. At the time, this was estimated to represent around 2% of the global population (Flórez-González et al., 2007; Avila et al., 2013).

This IMMA is a breeding site for M.n. australis, with 28%, 20.7%, and over 70% of observed groups containing calves in Gorgona National Natural Park (NNP), Tribugá Gulf, and Uramba-Bahia Málaga NNP, respectively (Avila, 2000; Flórez-González et al., 2007; Botero-Acosta, 2017; Avila et al., 2020). A crude birth rate of 0.24 (proportion of calves with respect to the total number of whales, including calves) was documented in Gorgona for the years 2003-2004 (Flórez-González et al., 2004). Given the very high rate of increase of this population in the last two decades (181% with an annual average growth rate of 5.07% in 12 years from 2006 to 2018; Félix et al., 2021), it is likely that the proportion of groups containing calves and the crude birth rate in Colombia have been even higher in recent years. From 1986 to 2016 more than 20 re-sightings of photo identified humpback whales were documented between the Antarctic Peninsula and Colombia (Stone et al., 1990; Garrigue et al., 2002; Stevick et al., 2004; Acevedo et al., 2017). Mitochondrial genetic markers and 15 microsatellite loci data also demonstrate a strong affinity between animals sampled in the western Antarctic Peninsula and those from Colombia (Caballero et al., 2001; 2021).

Recently, a few sightings (<10 individuals) of humpback whales including adults and calves have been reported between February and April (Avila et al., 2013, Palacios et al., 2012), which coincides with the breeding season of Megaptera novaeangliae kuzira from the North Pacific. However, no photo-identification records exist to confirm if these individuals are part of the North Pacific population.

Criterion D: Special Attributes

Sub-criterion D2: Diversity

Although marine mammal observations have been reported throughout the entire Colombian Pacific EEZ (Hamilton et al., 2009; Palacios et al., 2012; Avila et al., 2013; Chávez et al., 2018; Botero-Acosta et al., 2019; Barragán-Barrera et al., 2020; Bermúdez et al., 2021; Burbano, 2021; Pino, 2021), the highest density of sightings have been recorded in a roughly triangular area between Tribugá Gulf at the north, Gorgona Island at the south, and Malpelo Island at west. A total of 13 species of marine mammals have been documented as occurring regularly within the IMMA, with encounter rates (ER) higher than 0.5 groups per 1000 km of survey effort (Palacios et al. 2012). Seven additional species are also known to occur in the area with less frequency. The regularly documented species include two species of baleen whales and 11 odontocetes. These include (presented in increasing order according to their encounter rates, as reported by Palacios et al., 2012): Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba – ER=4.3); this species is frequently observed, mainly around Malpelo Island waters and between the corridor between Buenaventura coast and Malpelo Island (Herrera et al., 2011; Palacios et al., 2012); Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae australis – ER=3.6); this species is described in Criteria C1 and C3; Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus – ER=3.5) (Palacios et al., 2012; Chávez, 2018; Barragán-Barrera et al., 2020); Pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata – ER= 2.3) (Palacios et al., 2012; Chávez, 2018; Barragán-Barrera et al., 2020); Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus – ER=1.9) (Chávez, 2018; Bermúdez et al., 2021). The density of sperm whales in Colombia’s EEZ is one of the highest of the American Tropical Region with 3.8 individuals/1000 km2; Common dolphins (Delphinus delphis– ER=1.7), with both predominant forms observed within the area. However, all sightings of Delphinus sp. have been identified as D. delphis since both forms have been recently recognized as a single species based on multiple lines of evidence (Perrin, 2018); Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus– ER=1.3); Rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis– ER=0.8); this species occurs predominantly in offshore waters, particularly around Malpelo Island (Herrera et al., 2011; Palacios et al., 2012); Melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra – ER=0.5); sightings of this species occurred mainly just offshore of the continental slope and off Malpelo Island (Palacios et al., 2012); False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens – ER=0.5); this species has been reported predominantly in offshore waters, mainly off Malpelo Island (Herrera et al., 2011); Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus – ER=0.7); this species is observed mainly in offshore waters (Palacios et al., 2012); Dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima – ER=0.5); individuals and small groups have been documented in both coastal and offshore waters of the IMMA (Palacios et al., 2012, Juhel et al., 2021); Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni – ER=0.5); the species had been reported mainly in offshore waters, including over the Malpelo Ridge (Palacios et al., 2012). Several reports of unidentified rorquals (Balaenoptera sp.) along the entire area, particularly in waters around Malpelo Island, could belong to this species.

Supporting Information

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