Abstract: Characterizing species occurrence, abundance, and distribution is critical to the management of natural resources and the conservation of biodiversity. In the Western Caribbean, little information exists on the occurrence of aquatic mammals along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System and adjacent aquatic ecosystems. Herein, we present the first comprehensive review of aquatic mammals encountered in the marine and freshwater habitats of Belize. To determine which aquatic mammal species occur in Belizean waters, we conducted an extensive review of published and unpublished reports of aquatic mammals. We located 164 unique reports from museum and animal collections, journal articles, theses, news reports, conference proceedings, institutional reports, and verified accounts from personal observations. Our review confirms the presence of 17 aquatic mammal species in Belize: 15 cetaceans (Megaptera novaeangliae, Balaenoptera physalus, Ziphius cavirostris, Physeter macrocephalus, Kogia breviceps, Orcinus orca, Pseudorca crassidens, Globicephala macrorhynchus, Peponocephala electra, Stenella attenuata, S. clymene, S. frontalis, S. longirostris, Steno bredanensis, and Tursiops truncatus), one sirenian (Trichechus manatus manatus), and one carnivore (Lontra longicaudis annectens). Our findings provide the most up-to-date list of aquatic mammal presence in Belize. Given the limited data points obtained for most identified species, we recommend that systematic studies be conducted to investigate the status of the variety of aquatic mammals in the region to effectively monitor populations and devise strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of anthropogenic activity and climate change-related ecosystem shifts.
Key Words: aquatic mammals, Belize, Western Caribbean, marine mammals, species distribution
Document Type: Research Article
Page Numbers: 476-493