Science-based sister sanctuary relationships have been forged among five nations and their territories — Bermuda, Caribbean Netherlands, Dominican Republic, French Antilles and United States — to protect our international citizens, the North Atlantic humpback whale.

Over the past ten years, the Sister Sanctuary Program has expanded protection of North Atlantic humpback whales from 2191 km2 to 699,440-km2, making it one of the largest coordinated marine mammal conservation areas in the world.  (Graphic: SBNMS).



In 2006, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary established the Sister Sanctuary Program for developing strategic, science-based “sister sanctuary relationships” to insure the protection of our shared population of humpback whales outside of U.S. borders, with specific focus on international breeding and mating grounds in the Caribbean and along migration corridors.

Requirements for the Sister Sanctuary partnership include a shared resource (humpback whales), establishment of a Marine Mammal Sanctuary and the signing of a Sister Sanctuary agreement.

In December 2006, NOAA's National Oceanic Services and the Dominican Republic's Ministry of  the Environment and Natural Resources signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish the world's first Sister Sanctuary linkage protecting an endangered migratory marine mammal species on both ends of its range, between SBNMS and Santuario de Mamíferos Marinos de la República Dominicana.

In 2011, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and France's Marine Protected Areas Agency signed a MOU to protect endangered humpback whales that migrate annually between SBNMS and the Agoa Marine Mammal Sanctuary in the French Antilles.  This area includes the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy at the Caribbean's eastern edge.

In 2012, a marine mammal sanctuary was designated in Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone.  Following, the MOU was signed between NOAA's ONMS and the Government of Bermuda to help protect humpback whales along the migratory corridor between the Stellwagen Bank sanctuary’s feeding and nursery grounds and the Caribbean’s breeding grounds.

In 2015, the Caribbean Netherlands established Yarari Marine Mammal Sanctuary in Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire.


Through collaborative actions, the Sister Sanctuary partners have formed the first international Marine Mammal Protected Areas Network (MaMPAN) under the framework of UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme and its Specially Protected Areas Wildlife Programme (SPAW) that is administered by the SPAW Regional Activity Center in Guadeloupe.


To learn more about the Sister Sanctuary Program, visit our website:

Photo: Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)