E-mail contact: nan@whaleresearch.org 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 met at the University of Auckland from 9-12 April, 2001. The consortium now meets annually 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 (see Oremus et al. 2007). 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 (University of Auckland and Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University), Phil Clapham (US National Marine Mammal Lab, Seattle), Rochelle Constantine (University of Auckland), Claire Garrigue (Operation Cetaces, New Caledonia), Nan Hauser (Cook Islands Whale Research), Mike Donoghue (New Zealand Department of Conservation), Michael Poole (French Polynesia), Mike Noad, (University of Queensland at Brisbane), Dave Paton (Southern Cross University)

General members: Debbie Steel (Oregon State University), Adrian Oosterman (Norfolk Island), Anton Van Helden (Te Papa Museum), Trish and Wally Franklin (Oceania Project/Southern Cross University), Nadine Gibbs (University of Victoria/Cook Strait Research Project), Kirsty Russell (University of Auckland), Aline Schaffar (Operation Cetaces, New Caledonia), Ellen Garland (University of Queensland at Brisbane), Jen Jackson (University of Auckland), Dan Burns (Southern Cross University), Mark Oremus (University of Auckland), Chris Conroy (Cook Islands Whale Research), Nicky Wiseman (University of Auckland)

Invited participants to 2007 meeting: Darren Kinleysides (IFAW), Lui Bell (SPREP, Apia), Pennina Solomona (World Wildlife Fund, Fiji), Juney Ward (Ministry of Environment, Samoa), Simon Jarman (ACAMMS, Hobart), Benedict Madon (University of Auckland), Alana Alexander (University of Auckland)

Recent Publications

Constantine R, Jackson JA, Steel D, Baker CS, Brooks L, Burns D, Clapham P, Hauser N, Madon B, Mattila D, Oremus M, Poole M, Robbins J, Thompson K, and Garrigue C. 2012. Abundance of humpback whales in Oceania using photo-identification and microsatellite genotyping. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 453:249-261. DOI: 10.3354/meps09613.

Constantine, R., K. Russell, N. Gibbs, S. Childerhouse and C.S. Baker. 2007. Photo-identification of humpback whales in New Zealand waters and their migratory connections to breeding grounds of Oceania. Marine Mammal Science 23, 715–720. Link: DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2007.00124.x

Oremus, M., M.M. Poole, D. Steel and C.S. Baker. 2007. Isolation and interchange among insular spinner dolphin communities in the South Pacific revealed by individual identification and genetic diversity. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. Link: http://www.int-res.com/articles/meps2007/336/m336p275.pdf

Olavarría, C., C. S. Baker, C. Garrigue, M. Poole, N. Hauser, S. Caballero, L. Flórez-González, M. Brasseur, J. Bannister, J. Capella, P.J. Clapham, R. Dodemont, M. Donoghue, C. Jenner, M.N. Jenner, D. Moro, M. Oremus, D.A. Paton and K. Russell. 2007. Population structure of humpback whales throughout the South Pacific and the origins of the eastern Polynesian breeding grounds. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. Link: http://www.int-res.com/articles/meps2007/330/m330p257.pdf

Garrigue, C., R. Dodemont, D. Steel and C.S. Baker. 2007. Organismal and "gametic" capture-recapture using microsatellite genotyping confirm low abundance and reproductive autonomy of humpback whales on the wintering grounds of New Caledonia. Marine Ecology-Progress Series 274: 251-262. Link: http://www.int-res.com/articles/meps2004/274/m274p251.pdf