Fiji focuses on endangered humpback whales

This Fijian double-hulled canoe is used for survey work and the recording of whale song.
This Fijian double-hulled canoe is used for survey work and the recording of whale song.
Photo: Saras Sharma

Researchers will map the movements of endangered Oceania humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Fijian waters to build a complete picture of the species’ slow recovery from whaling.

The Oceania sub-population of humpback whales was classified as endangered in 2008, based on the small number of individuals present on tropical breeding grounds in comparison to pre-whaling abundance estimates, including comparisons between historical and land-based counts conducted in Fiji. These included surveys by Dr Bill Dawbin in the 1950s (who recorded 1648 humpbacks in three years), and surveys in 2002, 2003 and 2008.

Ms Saras Sharma from the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries said that establishing a consistent and long-term dataset on movement patterns is an important step in understanding the recovery, trend and status of this species within Fiji’s national waters. This work builds on preliminary work on humpback migration and Fiji’s first national cetacean survey in 2009.

‘This project is different because it’s on a broader and more intense scale and involves a lot of organisations and people. The Indo-Pacific Research funding has greatly assisted the project through training and capacity-building, equipment and logistics,’ Ms Sharma said. 

‘We have been fortunate to engage various government and non-government organisations in the project, and have created a significant level of cetacean conservation awareness and effort throughout Fiji.’

The project will build the capacity of national government staff and researchers for cetacean conservation, and aims to be relatively low-cost and easy to replicate to ensure sustainability over the longer term.

Fiji declared its exclusive economic zone a whale sanctuary in 2003, providing protection to resident and migratory cetaceans. The information gathered through this survey will contribute to the formulation of practical actions to manage the sanctuary.

JILL BROWN

Corporate Communications, Australian Antarctic Division

This page was last modified on 10 December 2010.