Antongil Bay Seascape, Madagascar

Antongil Photo
The Antongil Bay Seascape on the northeastern corner of Madagascar is one of the most important breeding spots for humpback whales in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

This enchanting seascape, the largest bay along the eastern coast of Madagascar, is home to coral reefs and various species of sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles. Several rivers feed into the bay, producing an estuary-like salinity that makes its waters a perfect environment for regional finfish and shellfish. Many area residents make their livings through small-scale fishing businesses that target sharks and shrimp.

Considered part of the Indian Ocean, Antongil Bay is a haven for humpback whales. Every year between June and September, about 7,000 whales migrate to its coastal waters to breed, calve, and nurse their babies. During this time, the calm of the bay is frequently punctuated by the eerie mating songs of the male whales, who also splash their flippers and tails dramatically. Protecting these waters is essential to the health of the humpbacks, sharks, and other marine species, as well as the vitality of local communities.

Fast Facts

  • The most important breeding spot for humpback whales in the Eastern Hemisphere.
  • Thirteen species of sharks live in these waters.
  • The bay borders the Makira-Masoala Landscape, Madagascar’s largest tract of rainforest.


Local residents regularly burn down parts of the forests that hug the shores around Antongil Bay to create cattle grazing grounds or farm plots. This contributes to soil erosion and other hazards that threaten water quality and jeopardize the productivity of this unique marine system. In addition, unregulated industrial fishing operations and irresponsible whale-watching businesses are depleting marine resources and significantly reducing populations of fish and sea mammals. The symptoms of climate change—warming water temperature, sea level rise, and increasing cyclones—also imperil the bay, threatening not only the natural habitat, but also the survival of entire communities that rely on this rich seascape.

WCS Responds

WCS helped create Madagascar’s first law overseeing whale-watching operations, aimed at making sure that the region’s burgeoning ecotourism industry generates revenue for local residents and is safe for humpbacks and other whale species. Working with local leaders and government groups, we have protected sensitive whale nursery areas and eliminated shark finning and other unsustainable practices. We have also trained local residents in marine conservation and management, helping them to develop sustainable fishing and farming practices. After years of decline, Antongil Bay’s fish populations appear to be stabilizing.

From the Newsroom

Madagascar Gets 'Roadmap' To Conserving Marine LifeFebruary 27, 2012

A study by WCS and partners presents a novel approach for establishing new large-scale protected areas in Madagascar’s waters.

Same Ocean, Different SongsFebruary 2, 2012

Researchers from WCS, Columbia University, and other institutions find an unusual divide in song themes sung by humpback whales in Madagascar and Western Australia.

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