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
To provide an international framework for coordinated
conservation efforts, a Memorandum of Understanding
(MoU) was launched on 15 September 2006. The MoU was
negotiated under the auspices of the Convention on
Migratory Species (CMS), in collaboration with the
Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
The MoU includes plans to protect and conserve Pacific
cetaceans and their habitats, including their migratory
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.
An up-to-date list of the MoU's Signatories can be
found in its Agreement Summary Sheet.
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 MoU’s Action Plan addresses these
and other threats to cetaceans in the Pacific Islands
The MoU was begun in an effort to bring coherence
to ongoing cetacean conservation activities across
the range. CMS’s key partner has been SPREP,
an international environmental organization created
by the governments and administrators of the Pacific
Islands Region. SPREP developed a Whale and Dolphin
Action Plan, which was adopted in 2003 and will be
revised in 2007. This plan was appended to the MoU
and forms the basis for on-the-ground conservation
efforts throughout the region.
Cetacean migration routes pass through the coastal
waters of various countries and territories as well
as the high seas. The MoU provides an intergovernmental
framework for governments, scientists and other groups
to monitor and coordinate ongoing and necessary conservation
Numerous programmes are already underway and support
the MoU’s implementation. Countries have looked
to standardize how they report and collect data from
stranded cetaceans. Studies have been undertaken to
look at the interactions between cetaceans and commercial
fishing. Educational programmes have helped connect
local communities to conservation efforts.
A public education initiative has raised awareness
of the threats caused to marine and bird life by ocean
pollution. Cetaceans are vulnerable to getting tangled
in plastic debris and there have been documented cases
of cetaceans mistaking plastic bags for food, which
can be lethal. Several governments have reacted to
the “plastic plague” by banning importation
of plastic bags and strengthening solid waste control
Through this MoU, the Pacific Islands Region seeks
to foster cooperation, build capacity and ensure coordinated
region-wide conservation for cetaceans and their habitats,
as well as to safeguard the cultural values cetaceans
have for the people of the Pacific Islands.