Madagascar Central East Coast IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

55 524 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Humpback whale – Megaptera novaeangliae

Criterion B (2); C (1, 3)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Feresa attenuata, Indopacetus pacificus, Megaptera novaeangliae, Peponocephala electra, Physeter macrocephalus, Pseudorca crassidens, Tursiops aduncus, Tursiops truncatus, Ziphius cavirostris


The Madagascar Central East Coast IMMA encompasses Antongil Bay, the waters off Île Sainte-Marie, the narrow continental shelf past the port city of Toamasina (Tamatave)  and waters beyond the continental shelf edge up to approximately 50km offshore. The area comprises important habitat for breeding aggregations of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), with mother–calf pairs showing a strong preference for shallow waters within Antongil Bay. The IMMA also hosts migrating humpback whales, with demonstrated connectivity to several other breeding grounds and migration routes, including those in the Mascarenes, northwest Madagascar, southern Madagascar, the Comoros Archipelago, and eastern Africa. Diversity and densities of other species within the area are observed to be relatively moderate for the region; however, Vulnerable sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and beaked whale species have been observed in association with the 2000 m isobath.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion B(2) – Aggregations

The area represents an important aggregation area for breeding humpback whales. Breeding hotspots (aggregations) were determined from kernel density models of satellite telemetry data to exist of Ile Sainte Marie, including in the Sainte Marie Channel, and the waters of the continental shelf south of Ile Sainte Marine to the Mongoro River mouth (Dulau et al. 2017). Similarly, Cerchio et al. (2016) identified the same general area as an area of “localized” movement behaviour for whales tagged off Île Sainte-Marie in 2012. These ‘hotspots’ coincide with a relatively shallow area of the continental shelf, which may provide a higher suitability of breeding habitat for this species (Trudelle et al. 2016). While the sample size of satellite tagged animals is relatively small compared to the size of the population (although comparative with other satellite telemetry studies for this species), research suggests that humpback whales have a strong tendency to aggregate when conspecifics are detected (e.g., by song), especially now populations have been diminished by whaling (Clapham et al. 2015). As such, a breeding ‘hotspot’ indicated by only a few animals through satellite telemetry data may represent a more significant aggregation area as other animals are attracted to the site.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas

The southwest Indian Ocean represents breeding and migratory habitat for humpback whale “Breeding Stock C,” as defined by the International Whaling Commission. Breeding Stock C is further divided into four “breeding substocks” (i.e., “BSC1-C4”). Breeding Substocks C3 and C4 are known to aggregate in the coastal waters of central eastern Madagascar, including Antongil Bay, Île Sainte-Marie, and the waters south to the Mongoro River mouth during the winter (Rosenbaum et al. 1997; Best et al. 1998; Ersts and Rosenbaum 2003; Cerchio et al. 2009; Best and Brandão 2009; Cerchio et al. 2016; Trudelle et al. 2016; Dulau et al. 2017; Trudelle et al. 2018). Following preliminary surveys in 1996, Rosenbaum et al. (1997) described Antongil Bay as a breeding area for humpback whales in the southwestern Indian Ocean. Behaviours widely accepted to indicate breeding activity were regularly sighted, including males singing and exhibiting competitive behaviour, and females with young calf (Pomilla & Rosenbaum 2006). Humpback whales have generally been observed in Antongil Bay from June to October, with the highest concentrations occurring in July through early September (Rosenbaum et al. 1997; Cerchio et al. 2009). Photographic mark-recapture data indicated that humpback whales utilizing Antongil Bay between 2000 and 2006 had low recapture rates with short residency times; therefore whales appeared to regularly move through the bay with transient residency as part of a more extensive breeding range for a large population, estimated to be in excess of 6000 animals in 2006 (Cerchio et al. 2009). More recently, satellite telemetry data of humpback whales tagged off Île Sainte-Marie (N=12) in 2012, Anakao in the southwest (N=11), and La Reunion (N=12) in 2013 have highlighted potential breeding ‘hotspots’ off Île Sainte-Marie and the waters south to the Mongoro River mouth, but no entry or usage of Antongil Bay despite substantial use of the Sainte-Marie Channel and areas just east of the Bay mouth (Cerchio et al. 2016; Trudelle et al. 2016; Dulau et al. 2017). These data and other anecdotal observations suggest a reduced usage of Antongil Bay in recent years, and potential change of condition given extensive documentation of high densities in the bay during peak season in previous years (1996 to 2006) (Rosenbaum et al. 1997, Ersts & Rosenbaum 2003, Cerchio et al., 2009).

Sub-criterion C3: Migration Routes

There are clear multiple sources of evidence of extensive humpback whale movements between the area defined by the Madagascar Central East Coast IMMA and other areas surrounding Madagascar, as well as areas off east Africa and the Mascarenes (e.g., Rosenbaum et al. 2009; Ersts et al. 2011; Fossette et al. 2014; Cerchio et al. 2008, 2016; Trudelle et al. 2016; Dulau et al. 2017; Kershaw et al. 2017). More broadly, the area falls within the migratory stream of Breeding Stock C as animals transit annually between productive feeding areas in the Southern Ocean and warmer wintering grounds off East Africa, the Comoros Archipelago, Madagascar, and the Mascarenes.

Supporting Information

Best, P.B., Findlay, K.P., Sekiguchi, K., Peddemors, V.M., Rakotonirina, B., Rossouw, A., Gove, D. 1998. ’Winter distribution and possible migration routes of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the southwest Indian Ocean’. Marine Ecology Progress Series 162: 287–299.

Best PB, Brandão A. 2009. Humpback whaling at Madagascar, 1910–1950. International Whaling Commission document SCF09SH2, 22–25 June 2009, Madeira, Portugal.

Cerchio S, Findlay K, Ersts P, Minton G, Bennet D, Meyer M et al. 2008. Initial assessment of exchange between breeding stocks C1 and C3 of humpback whales in the western Indian Ocean using photographic mark–recapture data, 2000–2006. International Whaling Commission document SC/60/SH33, 23–27 June 2008, Santiago, Chile.

Cerchio S, Ersts P, Pomilla C, Loo J, Razafindrakoto Y, Leslie M et al. 2009. Updated estimates of abundance for humpback whale breeding stock C3 off Madagascar, 2000–2006. International Whaling Commission document SC/61/SH7, 22–25 June 2009, Madeira, Portugal

Cerchio S, Trudelle L, Zerbini AN, Charrassin JB, Geyer Y, Mayer FX et al. 2016. Satellite telemetry of humpback whales off Madagascar reveals insights on breeding behavior and long-range movements within the southwest Indian Ocean. Marine Ecology Progress Series 562: 193–209.

Clapham, P.J. and Zerbini, A.N., 2015. Are social aggregation and temporary immigration driving high rates of increase in some Southern Hemisphere humpback whale populations?. Marine biology, 162(3), pp.625-634.

Dulau V, Pinet P, Geyer Y, Fayan J, Mongin P, Cottarel G et al. 2017. Continuous movement behavior of humpback whales during the breeding season in the southwest Indian Ocean: On the road again! Movement Ecology 5: 11.

Ersts PJ, Rosenbaum HC. 2003. Habitat preference reflects social organization of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on a wintering ground. Journal of Zoology 260: 337–345

Ersts PJ, Pomilla C, Kiszka J, Cerchio S, Rosenbaum HC, Vély M, et al. 2011. Observations of individual humpback whales utilizing multiple migratory destinations in the south-western Indian Ocean. African Journal of Marine Science 33: 333-338.

Faria MA, DeWeerdt, J, Pace F, Mayer FX. 2013. Observation of a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) birth in the coastal waters of Sainte Marie Island, Madagascar. Aquatic Mammals 39: 296–305.

Fossette S, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Jensen MV, Kiszka J, Bérubé M, Bertrand N, Vély M. 2014. Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) post-breeding dispersal and southward migration in the western Indian Ocean. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 450: 6–14

Kershaw F, Carvalho I, Loo J, Pomilla C, Best PB, Findlay KP, et al. 2017. Multiple processes drive genetic structure of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations across spatial scales. Molecular ecology. 26: 977-94.

Laran, S., Authier, M., Van Canneyt, O., Doremus, G., Watremez, P., Ridoux, V. (2017). A Comprehensive Survey of Pelagic Megafauna: Their Distribution, Densities, and Taxonomic Richness in the Tropical Southwest Indian Ocean. Front. Mar. Sci. 4:139. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00139

Laran, S., Van Canneyt, O., Dorémus, G., Mannocci, L., Ridoux, V. & Watremez, P. 2012. Distribution et abondance de la mégafaune marine dans le sud-ouest de l’océan Indien tropical. REMMOA-Océan Indien. Rapport final pour l’Agence des Aires Marines Protégées. 168p.

Pomilla, C., and Rosenbaum, H.C. 2006. Estimates of relatedness in groups of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on two wintering grounds of the Southern Hemisphere. Molecular Ecology 15, 2541-2555.

Rosenbaum HC, Walsh P, Razafindrakoto Y, Vely M, Desalle R. 1997. First description of a humpback whale wintering ground in Baie d’Antongil, Madagascar. Conservation Biology 11: 308–314.

Rosenbaum, H.C., Pomilla, C., Mendez, M., Leslie, M.S., Best, P.B., Findlay, K.P., Minton, G., Ersts, P.J., Collins, T., Engel, M.H. and Bonatto, S.L., 2009. Population structure of humpback whales from their breeding grounds in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. PLoS One, 4(10), p.e7318.

Trudelle, L., Cerchio, S., Zerbini, A.N., Geyer, Y., Mayer, F.X., Jung, J.L., Hervé, M.R., Pous, S., Sallée, J.B., Rosenbaum, H.C. and Adam, O., 2016. Influence of environmental parameters on movements and habitat utilization of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Madagascar breeding ground. Royal Society open science, 3(12), p.160616.

Trudelle L, Charrassin J-B, Saloma A, Pous S, Kretzschmar A, and Adam O. 2018. First insights on spatial and temporal distribution patterns of humpback whales in the breeding ground at Sainte Marie Channel, Madagascar. African Journal of Marine Science 40: 75-86.

Van Canneyt, O., Dorémus, G., Laran, S., Ridoux, V., Watremez, P., 2010. REMMOA Sud Ouest Océan Indien: Rapport intermédiaire pour l’Agence des Aires Marines Protégées, 70 pp.


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