MoU - Cetaceans and their Habitats of the Pacific Islands Region

Whales, dolphins and porpoises in this region, particularly those species that have experienced a large drop in their numbers over the past century, can be badly affected by interactions with fisheries, hunting, pollution, collisions with boats, noise pollution, habitat degradation, climate change, disruption of food chains and irresponsible tourism.

Although the Pacific has seen a great reduction in commercial whaling activities since 1986, many species of whales, dolphins and porpoises that live in this ocean are still considered to be endangered or vulnerable by scientists who study them. Whales, dolphins and porpoises in this region, particularly those species that have experienced a large drop in their numbers over the past century, can be badly affected by interactions with fisheries, hunting, pollution, collisions with boats, noise pollution, habitat degradation, climate change, disruption of food chains and irresponsible tourism.

In many communities in the Pacific, there are significant cultural connections between humans and whales, dolphins and porpoises. Also, in much of this region, whale and dolphin watching is a growing and important tourist industry.

To provide an international means of coordinating efforts to at least partly relieve the various threats to the wellbeing and survival of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the region, the CMS oversaw the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cetaceans and their habitats in the Pacific islands region; this MoU was launched in 2006. It includes plans to protect and conserve Pacific whales, dolphins and porpoises, as well as their habitats, including the parts of the oceans through which they migrate (these are known as ‘migratory corridors’).

The Pacific Islands region encompasses the following states and territories – Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Island, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu, USA (American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.

The MoU action plan

Many programmes of actions are already underway as a result of the creation of this MoU:

  • Countries that have signed up to the MoU are looking to standardise how they report and collect data from stranded cetaceans
  • Studies have been undertaken into the interactions between commercial fishing activities and whales, dolphins and porpoises
  • Educational initiatives have helped to connect local communities to conservation efforts
  • A public education initiative has raised awareness in the region of the threats caused to marine and bird life by ocean pollution
  • Several governments have reacted to the problems that plastic debris can cause whales, dolphins and porpoises by banning the import of plastic bags and improving the ways in which plastic waste is deposed of.
 
WDC supports this regional MoU through several ways: -

(i) in-country field research

(ii) capacity building

(iii) policy development and support (particularly in relation to the development of national management and conservation plans for cetaceans)

(iv) ongoing collation of all relevant information across the PIR in relation to cetacean diversity, status and habitats

(v) lecturing and advising of post-graduate students at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji

(vi) progress against habitat mapping and marine protected areas in relation to cetaceans.