Cétacé Dauphin Mer des Caraïbes Martinique
©Cétacé Dauphin Mer des Caraïbes Martinique|MDES
The CetaceansPresent in the waters of Martinique

The Cetaceans of Martinique

What an experience it is to come across, observe and recognize cetaceans during a trip to the sea! They hold a fascination for all of us, young and old. Here are the main species that live, pass or reproduce in Martinique waters…

The Caribbean Sea is a privileged habitat for feeding, reproduction and migration of marine mammals. Some 30 species have been recorded in the French West Indies, in the heart of the AGOA Marine Mammal Sanctuary. This represents 1/3 of the number of species in the world! Some are resident like the Pantropical spotted dolphin, others come to our warm waters part of the year to breed like the humpback whale.

Cetaceans are marine mammals, this means that they nurse their young. There are two suborders of cetaceans which are odontocetes, those with teeth (like dolphins), and mysticetes which have baleen (like the humpback whale), a kind of filter that allows them to feed on very small prey. They can be distinguished by their breath on the surface, which corresponds to the expulsion of air during ascents after apnea. Indeed, odontocetes have a single vent (a single nostril) while mysticetes have a double vent (two nostrils).

The iconic cetaceans.

Bottlenose Dolphin

Tursiops truncatus

This is an active and sometimes inquisitive animal that can accompany divers and boats. Groups are usually composed of 5 to 10 individuals, but they can be much larger offshore. It dives for 3 to 6 minutes to hunt mainly fish and squid. The great dolphin is very vulnerable because it is very sensitive to human activities and the degradation of the coastal marine environment, due to its often very littoral frequentation.

Fraser's dolphin

Lagenodelphis hosei

Discovered very late (in the 1970s), characterized by its short beak, the Fraser’s dolphin moves in large, active groups and feeds primarily on near-surface and mid-depth fish. It is sometimes nicknamed the “piggy dolphin” because of its stocky appearance and pink belly.

Pantropical spotted dolphin

Stenella attenuata

This is one of the most commonly encountered species in the waters of the Agoa Sanctuary. This spotted dolphin in the adult moves in large groups of 50 to several hundred individuals to hunt for surface fish. It is THE playful dolphin with acrobatic jumps par excellence!

Short-finned pilot whale

Globicephala macrorhynchus

The tropical pilot whale has long pectoral fins and a bulbous forehead giving it the name “calabash porpoise”. It lives in groups of a few dozen individuals. This species weighs from 1 to 4 tons. A large predator, the pilot whale feeds mainly on squid and pelagic fish. It is present all year round in Martinique.


Sperm whale

Physeter macrocephalus

With its large, square head and wrinkled skin, the small sperm whale looks on the surface like a huge tree trunk. To feed in the abyss, it arches its back and shows its tail. If they are observed most often alternating resting and feeding phases, groups gather regularly, to socialize, sometimes for several hours. Sperm whales are usually encountered in groups of less than ten individuals.


Humpback whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

The humpback whale, thanks to its characteristic morphology and propensity to jump is easily identifiable. It can be recognized by its white marbled caudal fin (tail) which it raises when diving and its long pectoral fins. It is a mysticete. It has no teeth but baleen plates to filter the water and capture its food. Migratory species, it is present in the Caribbean from December to May. The songs of the humpback whales, emitted by the males, sound like the bellowing of a cow, interspersed with high-pitched melodies. In the past, sailors attributed these bewitching songs to mermaids. The humpback whale’s very coastal habits make it very sensitive to human pressures.


To observe the cetaceans,

trust the professionals.

Indeed, regulations require professional operators to undergo training in approaching marine mammals provided by the Agoa Sanctuary. This training as well as the signature of the Agoa charter are indispensable prerequisites required by the competent authorities (the marine directorates) for the exercise of professional whale watching. Only these professionals have the regulatory authorization to approach up to 100 meters from the animals. As for the untrained persons, they cannot approach within 300 meters of the animals.

The Agoa sanctuary (referring to “Maï d’Agoa,” the mother of the water spirit in Native American mythology) for marine mammals in the French West Indies is a marine protected area created by France in 2010 and internationally recognized under the SPAW protocol of the Cartagena Convention in 2012.

Dolphins can be seen all year round in Martinique, but they are much more numerous from November to April. If you want to see humpback whales, note that they come between December and June, with a peak attendance of hundreds of specimens, in February and March.