E-mail contact: info@whaleresearch.org, debbie.steel@oregonstate.edu or scott.baker@oregonstate.edu

Address correspondences to:
The Secretariat
South Pacific Whale Research Consortium
P.O. Box 3069
Avarua, Rarotonga
Cook Islands


Humpback whales migrate each year to winter breeding grounds near islands and shallow banks in the tropical waters of Oceania (South Pacific) after feeding during summer in waters near the Antarctic. Humpback whales in Oceania were hunted first during the 19th century by "Yankee" style whaling vessels and more intensively during the 20th century by factory ships and modern shore-based operations. The last recorded catches of these whales were by the Kingdom of Tonga, prior to the 1978 Royal decree prohibiting this hunt. Recovery in the abundance of humpback whales in Oceania has been slow and variable. Sightings remain rare along the coast of New Zealand and around several island groups, such as Fiji, where they were once common. Only recently has a primary reason for this slow and variable recovery been revealed. As part of a systematic program of illegal whaling, Soviet factory ships killed almost 13,000 humpback whales in the Antarctic waters directly south of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania during the 1959-60 season. This precipitated a crash in the numbers of humpback whales throughout Oceania and may have resulted in the extinction of some local populations.


The South Pacific Whale Research Consortium (SPWRC) was formed by independent scientists to investigate the status of humpback and other whale species in the region of Oceania, including New Zealand and eastern Australia. Members have been involved in field studies initiated as early as 1991 in New Caledonia, the Kingdom of Tonga, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, as well as eastern Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific coast of South America, the Ross Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula. Members of the SPWRC first met at the University of Auckland from 9-12 April, 2001. The consortium now meets annually or biennially to compare and review data collected during each winter season, including individual identification photographs, genetic samples, sighting records and song recordings.

The primary purpose of the consortium is to coordinate and facilitate nonlethal research on large whales in the South Pacific region. Although humpback whales are the focus of much of the work, data are collected on all whales and the consortium serves to promote a better understanding of the biology and behavior of all cetacean, including the many species of dolphins found in this vast region. Documentation of the basic cetacean biodiversity of Oceania is a primary goal of the consortium. The principal field sites currently studied by the consortium and its members include French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga, New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Niue, American Samoa, Samoa, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, and eastern Australia, as well as the Antarctic feeding grounds. Collaborations include researchers along the coast of South America (Colombia and Chile) and in Western Australia.

Executive Committee and officers: Scott Baker (Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University), Phil Clapham (USA), Rochelle Constantine (University of Auckland), Claire Garrigue (IRD, New Caledonia), Nan Hauser (Cook Islands Whale Research), Mike Donoghue (New Zealand), Michael Poole (French Polynesia), Mike Noad, (University of Queensland at Brisbane), Dave Paton (Blue Planet Marine, Australia), Simon Childerhouse (Cawthron Institute, New Zealand), Olive Andrews (New Zealand), Ellen Garland (University of St Andrews, Scotland), Juney Ward (SPREP) and Debbie Steel (Oregon State University)


Recent Publications

Warren VE, Širović A, McPherson C, Goetz K, Radford CA, Constantine R. 2021. Passive acoustic monitoring reveals spatio-temporal distributions of Antarctic and pygmy blue whales around central New Zealand. Frontiers in Marine Science. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2020.575257

Chero G, Pradel R, Derville S, Bonneville C, Gimenez O, Garrigue C. 2020. Reproductive capacity of an endangered and recovering population of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. Marine Ecology Progress Series 643: 219-227. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13329

Derville S, Torres LG, Zerbini AN, Oremus M, Garrigue C. 2020. Horizontal and vertical movements of humpback whales inform the use of critical pelagic habitats in the western South Pacific. Scientific Reports 10, 4871. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61771-z

Garrigue C, Derville S, Bonneville C, Baker CS, Cheeseman T, Millet L, Paton P, Steel D. 2020. Searching for humpback whales in a historical whaling hotspot of the Coral Sea, South Pacific. Endangered Species Research 42, 67-82. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01038

Riekkola L, Andrews-Goff V, Friedlaender A, Zerbini AN, Constantine R. 2020. Longer migration not necessarily the costliest strategy for migrating humpback whales. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 30 (5): 937-948. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.3295

Warren VE, Constantine R, Noad M, Garrigue C, Garland EC. 2020. Migratory insights from singing humpback whales recorded around central New Zealand. Royal Society Open Science. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.201084

Derville S, Torres LG, Dodémont R, Perard V, Garrigue C. 2019. From land and sea, long-term data reveal persistent humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breeding habitat in New Caledonia. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 29 (10): 1697-1711. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.3127

Derville S, Torres LG, Albertson R, Andrews O, Baker CS, Carzon P, Constatine R, Donoghue M, Dutheil C, Gannier A, Oremus M, Poole MM, Robbins J, Garrigue C. 2019. Whales in warming water: Assessing breeding habitat diversity and adaptability in Oceania’s changing climate. Global Change Biology 25 (4): 1466-1481. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14563

Riekkola L, Andrews-Goff V, Friedlaender A, Constantine R, Zerbini AN. 2019. Environmental drivers of humpback whale foraging behavior in the remote Southern Ocean. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 517: 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2019.05.008

Albertson RG, Friedlaender A, Steel DJ, Aguayo-Lobo A, Bonatto SL, Cabellero S, Constantine R, Cypriano-Souza AL, Engel MH, Garrigue C, Flórez-González L, Johnston DW, Nowack D, Olavarría C, Poole MM, Read AJ, Robbins J, Sremba, AL, Baker CS. 2018. Temporal stability and mixed-stock analyses of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the nearshore waters of the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Polar Biology. 41(2): 323-340. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-017-2193-1

Pallin LJ, Baker CS, Steel D, Keller NM, Robbins J, Johnston DW, Nowacek DP, Read AJ, Friedlaender AS. 2018. High pregnancy rates in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) around the Western Antarctic Peninsula, evidence of a rapidly growing population. Royal Society Open Science. 5: 180017. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.180017

Riekkola L, Zerbini AN, Andrews O, Andrews-Goff V, Baker CS, Chandler D, Childerhouse S, Clapham P, Dodémont R, Donnelly D, Friedlaender A, Gallego R, Garrigue C, Ivashchenko Y, Jarman S, Lindsay R, Pallin L, Robbins J, Steel D, Tremlett J, Vindenes S, Constantine R. 2018. Application of a multi-disciplinary approach to reveal population structure and Southern Ocean feeding grounds of humpback whales. Ecological Indicators. 89: 455-465. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2018.02.030

Steel D, Anderson M, Garrigue C, Olavarría C, Caballero S, Childerhouse S, Clapham P, Constantine, R, Dawson S, Donoghue M, Flórez‐González L, Gibbs N, Hauser N, Oremus M, Paton D, Poole MM, Robbins J, Slooten L, Thiele D, Ward J, Baker CS. 2018. Migratory interchange of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) among breeding grounds of Oceania and connections to Antarctic feeding areas based on genotype matching. Polar Biology. 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-017-2226-9