Posted on behalf of Cara Miller – WDC Pacific Islands Programme
Over the last couple of weeks there have been a number of reports that humpback whales have made it all the way from their Antarctic foraging grounds back to the warm, tropical breeding grounds of the Pacific Islands. Within Fijian waters, sightings have been made near the islands of Taveuni, Leleuvia, Gau, and Koro. In a number of these sightings it was noted that calves were present – which is a particularly positive sign given that the Oceania humpback whale subpopulation is listed as Endangered on the IUCN redlist. Surveys conducted by Fiji Fisheries Department, University of the South Pacific, WWF, and WDC between 2010-2012 confirmed the low numbers and so these recent reports are particularly welcome.
We generally expect to start seeing humpback whales migrating into Fijian waters around July (although in some years it happens a bit earlier or a bit later that this). Humpback whales spend about 4 months feeding and 4 months in the breeding areas – and then about 6-8 weeks traveling between these two areas. While in Fiji they don’t feed as their prey items (large swarms of krill) don’t occur in large enough quantities in Fiji waters. Their primary reason for coming to Fiji is for calving and breeding. The peak migration period is in September – October. They start leaving Fijian waters in late October and November.
Generally the Vatu-I-Ra passage area and associated island groups tends to have the highest number of sightings during the season – and accordingly is considered to be one of the key migration corridors for humpback whales through Fiji. That said, they are also seen in many other parts of the country including the Lau group and the Mamanuca and Yasawa groups.
There is a national database kept by the Fiji Fisheries Department to collate all of the reported sightings occurring in Fiji waters. Such a database is obviously an important way to learn more about the distribution, movement patterns, and presence of calves in Fijian waters. In addition, a new facebook reporting page is just being set up (Fiji whale and dolphin sightings).