Whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) migrate over large distances, connecting ocean ecosystems and cultures throughout the Pacific Islands Region. During the last century, many larger whale species became endangered due to commercial whaling.
Although currently protected by an international moratorium on whaling, most of these species that frequent the Pacific Islands Region remain endangered or vulnerable.
To provide an international framework for coordinated conservation efforts, a Memorandum of Understanding (Pacific Cetaceans MoU) was launched on 15 September 2006. The Pacific Cetaceans MoU was negotiated under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), in collaboration with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
The Pacific Cetaceans MoU includes plans to protect and conserve Pacific cetaceans and their habitats, including their 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, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America (American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
Cetaceans evolved from land mammals approximately 50 million years ago. While thoroughly adapted to sea life, they retain some traces of their evolutionary past. Cetaceans bear live young and feed them milk, investing heavily in the upbringing and development of each offspring. Cetaceans live long, mature late, reproduce slowly and engage in complex social relationships. They are capable advanced activities including echolocation and long-distance communication, which provide them with sophisticated tools to perceive and understand their environment. A complex respiratory system allows them to spend long stretches under water, but they must surface regularly to breath air.
The spectacular leaps of whales and dolphins above the water’s surface, as well as the sounds some species use to communicate and function underwater, fascinate humans. In many communities, there are significant cultural connections between cetaceans and humans. In much of the Pacific Islands Region, whale and dolphin watching is a growing tourist industry of importance to the region.
The survival of many cetacean populations that frequent the waters of the Pacific Islands Region, particularly those that have been severely depleted, can be affected by interactions with fisheries, hunting, pollution, collisions with boats, noise, habitat degradation, climate change, disruption of food chains and irresponsible tourism. The Pacific Cetaceans MoU’s Action Plan addresses these and other threats to cetaceans in the Pacific Islands Region.