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 Region.