For the second successive year, the Southern Cross University team, led by David Paton, worked with the Fijian Department of Environment, the World Wildlife Fund, the Whale Conservation Society, students from University of the South Pacific (USP), Nai’a Cruises and Ovalau Water Sports to survey whales and dolphins in the waters between Ovalau and Wakaya Islands.
Over a one month period, they sighted humpback whales, sperm whales, short finned pilot whales, false killer whales, spinner dolphins and Pantropical spotted dolphins
“These findings support the decision by the Fijian Government early this year to declare a whale sanctuary in Fijian waters,” said Mr Paton, project co-ordinator.
Mr Paton said that a study conducted at Levuka in the 1950’s indicated that whales were once common in the region with up to 238 sightings a week of humpbacks during late August. However, during the 1960’s humpback numbers in the South Pacific collapsed as a result of whaling.
“This project confirms that humpbacks still visit Fiji and that it is an important breeding and calving ground for this species as well as other species of whale and dolphin,” Mr Paton said.
A member of the research team, Nadine Gibbs, said that the data collection continues beyond the survey.
“We would like to hear from any member of the public who may see whales in Fijian waters at any time,” Miss Gibbs said.
“They can contact Nai’a Cruisers in Pacific Harbour to report sightings. This will assist with ongoing understanding of whale numbers and movement patterns in the region”.
The Fijian Whale Sanctuary is the most recently declared to protect whale and dolphins in the South Pacific. Other sanctuaries were already established in Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Niue, and Australia. New Zealand and Vanuatu have legislation in place that protects whales within their territorial waters. Whales in the Kingdom of Tonga are protected by a Royal decree.
(Humpback whale picture by Trish Franklin, Oceania Project, Hervey Bay, Qld)
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