Cook Islands Humpback Whale Survey 1998-2008
Nan Hauser, CCRC
PhD candidate, Southern Cross University
Peter Harrison, Southern Cross University, Lismore, Australia
Phil Clapham, NMFS, NOAA
Tap Pryor, Board Member, Center for Cetacean Research & Conservation
Darlene Ketten, MD, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Background South Pacific Humpback Whales
Humpbacks are the most studied of the large whales, yet much of their basic biology remains unknown. There are few estimates of humpback population parameters, and none whatsoever for the central South Pacific until recent studies.
Humpbacks have been hunted extensively in the South Pacific by commercial and pirate whalers, as recently as 25 years ago. Indeed, disregarding an international moratorium on high seas whaling, several nations are clamoring to resume the hunt in these waters. Small island nations of Oceania are especially vulnerable to financial incentives offered by coutnries that still hunt whales. The Cook Islands have led the way in whale conservation by claiming a 2 million square kilometer whale sanctuary in their exclusive economic zone. Other countries have followed suit. Michael Poole in French Polynesia and Claire Garrigue in New Caledonia were the key players in creating whale sanctuaries in their countries.
In 1998, Nan Hauser initiated a long-term humpback whale survey in the Cook Islands, a chain of 15 islands in the central tropical South Pacific which humpbacks frequent in the austral winter, apparently to breed and calve. The Cook Islands offer an unprecedented opportunity to study the status of humpback whales in the central South Pacific, information vital for developing conservation measures for this endangered species.
Because of the determination of these scientists and the high quality research of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, these sanctuaries were established. Many thanks to all of them.
Objectives Research and Conservation
CCRC strives to ensure the protection of endangered South Pacific humpback whales by 1) determining their population identity and status in the Cook Islands, and by 2) raising awareness of the whales and their pressing conservation issues.
Finding the facts
An exploratory survey was conducted in the waters of the Cook Islands (central tropical South Pacific) in September and October, 1998. Numerous humpback whales were individually identified, cow-calf pairs were sighted, and song was recorded extensively. Since these humpback whales, including small calves, frequent the Cook Islands throughout the austral winter months, the Cook Islands emerge as breeding habitat for humpbacks from one of the least-studied of southern hemisphere management areas, Antarctic Area VI.
To determine population identity and status, CCRC has initiated a long term study which will compare genetic, photo-identification, and song samples from Cook Islands humpback whales with samples from whales of other breeding and feeding sites in the South Pacific. Other long-term goals include investigating the behavioral ecology and toxicological loads of the Cook Islands population. For more information, see Research Methods.
Increasing public awareness of whales and their conservation issues is essential for effecting informed decision-making about whale management. CCRC informs and engages in the Cook Islands, the United States and the Bahamas, by: offering first-hand practical experiences for interns and volunteers; supplementing school curricula with educational enrichment programs; providing outreach presentations at public gatherings; distributing scientific findings to decision-makers; and, contributing footage and photographs of whales, background information, and interviews for television, radio and printed broadcast. Moreover, CCRC will inform worldwide audiences through television documentaries, magazine articles, scientific journals, and several websites actively updated from the field.
REVEREND AIDAN WESTWELL EVERSHED. Thank you Ronette for your many years of wisdom.