Biodiversity and Status of Cetaceans in Benin, West Africa: an Initial Assessment
K Van Waerebeek
No published literature is available on the whales and dolphins of Benin. A first insight in the cetacean biodiversity based on stranding, capture and sighting records, as well as a preliminary assessment of status, is provided. Seven species were authenticated: humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae, common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus, Atlantic spotted dolphin Stenella frontalis, false killer whale Pseudorca crassidens, shortfinned pilot whale Globicephala macrorhynchus, Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris and sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus. Two additional taxa were confirmed at genus level, i.e. common dolphin Delphinus sp. and minke whale Balaenoptera sp. All reported species also occur in Ghana or Togo. Concern is expressed that in Benin, as in some other western African nations, coastal communities increasingly exploit stranded and by-caught cetaceans to supply a thriving, albeit illegal, marine bushmeat trade. Small cetaceans were also taken intentionally in the absence of efficient controls of landings or other management measures. Although presently at subsistence scale, the threat of wider commercialization exists. In view of the limited number of validated species, voucher specimens and scarce biological baseline information, opportunistic sampling must be expanded to include more systematic and dedicated research, in particular, ship-based marine mammal surveys. It is recommended that graduate students at Benin’s universities play a central role.