Endangered humpback whales which transit the Caribbean Sea have a better chance of living longer, thanks to an agreement signed between the Dominican Republic Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources and the U.S. National Marine Sanctuary program.

The agreement established the world's first program linking sanctuaries in an effort to protect endangered migratory marine mammal species on both ends of the migratory track. The two sanctuaries, located in the D.R. and the U.S., are 1,500 miles apart and provide critical support for humpback whales, which number approximately 900.

The whales are known to spend spring and summer at Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts before heading to the warmer waters of the Sanctuario de Mamiferos Maria de la Republic Dominicana in late fall to mate and deliver their young.

Both sanctuaries agreed to step up coordination and management efforts with one another to help improve humpback whale recovery in the North Atlantic.

The sister sanctuary agreement already is in effect and establishes cooperation guidelines for the next five years, which include joint research, monitoring and education.

"Both the U.S. and the Dominican Republic are parties to SPAW (Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife)," said Alessan Vanzella-Khouri, program officer. "This initiative manifests the true spirit of regional cooperation to ensure the conservation of whales and other endangered migratory species."

"Our mandate is to engender new discussions in our society about the importance of marine mammals, the oceans in which they live and our responsibility as ocean stewards," said Maximiliano Puige, minister of environment and natural resources for the Dominican Republic.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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