Scientific Satellite Tagging Project 2007

This project is funded by Greenpeace International


The Great Whale Trail (link to Greenpeace)

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Tracking the Whales



Whale Migration: the first scientific results are in. Greenpeace

Meet the scientists. Greenpeace

Unknown Migration Routes. NOAA Oct 07

Fluking it on the Whale Trail. Daily Telegraph Oct 07

Greenpeace tracks whales from space. Amsterdam Oct 07

The Great Whale Tale. Cook Islands News Sep 07




» Cook Islands detail (13 October)

» New Caledonia detail (13 October)


Satellite Tags on Humpback Whales Expose Unknown Migration Routes

NOAA Press Release: 11 October 2007

An international group of scientists is learning new things about the migration routes and daily habits of South Pacific humpback whales from satellite tags the group recently placed in the thick blubber of 20 whales. Tagged off New Caledonia and the Cook Islands, data show individual whales taking divergent and circuitous routes to the austral summer feeding grounds of the Antarctic.

“The tagged whales almost immediately provided fascinating surprises for the research team,” said Dr. Phil Clapham of NOAA Fisheries Service’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “The whales are telling us where they go, and we have already learned new things about their preferred habitats and migratory routes.”

“Right now, 10 tags are still operating – five each from New Caledonia and the Cook Islands. We hope that they will continue to transmit for weeks or months, showing the final destinations of these animals as they undertake their long migration from the tropics to the cold waters of the Southern Ocean.”

Tag data show that several of the New Caledonia whales traveled to a seamount system southeast of the island. It is clear, Clapham said, judging by the time the whales spent there, that the habitat is important to them. Another whale migrated to the northern end of New Caledonia, and then traveled west to the Chesterfield Islands (a United States whaling ground in the 19th century). Others began their migration south, stopping off at Norfolk Island or hanging out off the North Island of New Zealand before continuing on towards the Antarctic. In the Cook Islands, most of the tagged whales moved west, heading towards or north of Tonga - facts prized by the scientists, since so little is known about the movements of Cook Islands humpback whales.

The 10 functioning tags transmit signals to scientists daily over an Argos satellite. Scientists are gaining a more detailed picture of the whales’ population structure and movements. The information may also serve to demonstrate the vulnerability of whales from small, un-recovered populations to the upcoming Japanese whale hunt in the South Pacific.

Last year, a pilot project placed a satellite tag on a mature female humpback in the Cook Islands. The tag stopped working after two weeks, but amazingly came to life again after three months of silence, when the whale was 3,000 km to the south of Tahiti and well on her way to the Antarctic. The tag provided the first documented connection between the Cook Islands and an Antarctic feeding area.

Tagging whales is a difficult business. Unlike tagging attaching a neck harness on wolves or bears, there is no simple way of attaching external tags. Tags for whales have to be implanted in the animal’s thick layer of blubber. Many work themselves free of the blubber after days or weeks, but some stay affixed and operate for months displaying the movements of the animal over long periods and sometimes vast distances.

The current conservation status of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere varies considerably. Some populations – such as those off the coasts of Australia – are recovering well from intensive 20th century whaling, and number in the thousands of whales. In contrast, there are several small and apparently struggling humpback populations in parts of Oceania, including New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, Fiji and New Zealand. These populations were hit very heavily by commercial whaling in the 1950’s and 60’s, including huge illegal catches by the former USSR.

The project is a collaboration between NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Lab, Operation Cetaces in New Caledonia, Cook Islands Whale Research and Instituto Aqualie. The work was primarily financed by Greenpeace International as part of a scientific collaboration to carry out critical non-lethal research on specific populations of South Pacific humpback whales at risk from a range of threats, including whaling.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems, NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than70 countries, and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts, and protects.

Greenpeace tracks whales from space

Amsterdam, 10 October 2007

Greenpeace today announced the launch of the "Great Whale Trail", a website which uses satellite tracking to show the migration of threatened humpback whales from their breeding grounds in the South Pacific to their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary*.

The tracking project will produce vital scientific data on the whales' movements, habitat use and population structure. The website is also a window through which the public can follow their progress and learn more about the range of threats to marine life. In stark contrast, under the guise of "scientific whaling", the Japanese whaling fleet intends to kill 935 minke whales, 50 endangered fin whales and 50 threatened humpback whales this year.

The inclusion of the larger fin and humpback whales means a four-fold increase in the overall weight of the whaling kill, in comparison to the smaller minke whales alone. The "Great Whale Trail" non-lethal tracking programme is intended to show that whales don't need to die for science.

"In less than two months, the monitoring of the South Pacific whales has already generated valuable new scientific knowledge, and not a single whale has died in the process" said Sara Holden, Greenpeace International whales campaign leader. "Over the last 20 years of Japanese 'scientific research', thousands of whales have been killed, yet the quality and relevance of the scientific data to management is remarkably low.

The tagging programme is producing real scientific results without firing a single harpoon." Greenpeace fears that humpback whales from small, threatened populations in the South Pacific, where many countries have whale- watching industries, could be among those killed by the Japanese fleet.

"The whale meat which Japan brings back from the Southern Ocean provides virtually no income, whereas Pacific Island countries have developed whale watching into a multi-million dollar industry," said Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan, whales project leader. "The Japanese government's whaling programme is jeopardising the economies of whale- watching nations.

"The "Great Whale Trail" website also highlights the need for a global network of marine reserves which would provide over-exploited species with a chance of recovery.

Contacts: Sara Holden, Greenpeace International Whales Project leader (Amsterdam: +31 615 007 406 GMT + 2)
Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan Whales Project leader, +81-80-5088-2990 (in Tokyo GMT 9)

*is a collaboration between Greenpeace and the whale research organisations Opération Cétacés (www.operationcetaces.com and the Centre for Cetacean Research and Conservation (www.whaleresearch.org) With financial support from Greenpeace, scientists successfully attached satellite tracking tags to whales from New Caledonia and Rarotonga, in August and September 2007.

The Great Whale Tale in Cook Islands Waters

29 September 2007

Armed with cutting edge science and equipment, the Cook Islands is at the forefront of whale research and ultimately leads the battle against the slaughter of countless whales by the Japanese government.

Japan proposes to double its annual catch of minke whales from 440 to 935 and to expand lethal sampling to include an additional yearly take of 50 fin whales and 50 humpback whales, the species that migrate through the protected waters of the Cooks.
After the successful whale tagging project in 2006, when two humpback whales were tagged off the Rarotonga reef, the first ever in the South Pacific, Greenpeace International has stepped up to the mark with funding for this year's whale tagging exercise estimated to cost NZ$36,000. The project is being documented for a Greenpeace campaign called the 'Great Whale Tale'.

Cameraman Derek Pascoe and professional photographer Paul Hilton have followed the entire project, filming and photographing every whale tagged. Their images and story of the project will be released to international media next month to raise awareness about whale research and conservation while Australia-based Japanese Greenpeace member Sakyo Noda has been observing the whole project for the same purpose.

Last season's inaugural whale tagging project was an exciting and hair-raising experience for local whale researcher Nan Hauser and her team as a full sized whale scraped its barnacles off on their borrowed tin boat while they were trying to tag it.

This season's project has been no less exciting. However, there have been no more reports of barnacle scraping whales now that the team has a brand new inflatable boat that has made the project easier.

Seven satellite tags were deployed in 10 days this season, with whale tagger Ygor Geyer back again for the project. The first hair-raising experience for the team was the late arrival of the tagging gear after it went missing in transit.

The satellite tags are pierced into the whale's blubber just below the dorsal fin using a five-metre pole with the tag attached at one end.
The tag then sends out a signal to three satellites, but only when the tag is out of the water.

The tag is placed at the dorsal fin because this part of the whale is almost guaranteed to come out of the water when the whale surfaces for air, or breaches.

With the whales tagged, Hauser and her team can now track the movement of the whales. Japan is proposing to start killing whales next month, and it is feared that these tagged humpbacks could migrate through the area where Japan proposes to start killing for so-called 'scientific research'.

"It is impossible for Japanese whalers to know where the whales they are killing are coming from," says Hauser.

"This highlights the irresponsible nature of Japan's actions which can potentially threaten the whales across Oceania."

Whale tagger Ygor Geyer has just recently come from tagging whales in New Caledonia where 12 whales were tagged. The aim was to tag 15 whales, and with three transponders left over this has meant that the Cooks were able to secure three more tags for the local project.

Also making history is the fact that Hauser's boat driver and Cook Islander Kees Napa was just the eighth person in world to tag a whale.

"It was an amazing experience," says Napa."It's like nothing we have ever done before."

Napa, who has worked alongside Hauser for seven years, says that tagging the whale came with a huge responsibility as he had to make sure he got it right the first time.

Hauser has had to explain that their whale tagging method is non lethal and harmless to the whales as many whale watching locals and tourists were alarmed at the sight of Geyer standing at the bow of the boat wielding a pole that looked like a harpoon and thrusting it into the whale. Hauser says it was good that people were concerned enough to find out what was happening.

This year's whale tagging team were Nan Hauser (lead scientist), Kees Napa (boat driver), Rawiri Paratene (research assistant), Sakyo Noda (Greenpeace Japan), Cameron Thorp (boat driver), Ygor Geyer (whale tagger), Robbie Daniels (boat driver) plus Derek Pascoe (cameraman) and Paul Hilton (photographer).

Hauser and her team would like to thank the people of the Cook Islands who have shown enormous support for the project.

Matariki Wilson, Cook Island News


Thank you to Wade and Tracy at Rainbow Rentals for all of the support they have provided with boats.

Rainbow Rentals


© Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, 2004-13. All photos © Nan Hauser.
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