Principal Investigators: Solène Derville, Dr. Claire Garrigue, Dr. Leigh G. Torres
Humpback whales visiting the New Caledonian breeding grounds have been subject to a long term monitoring program since 1993 thanks to the efforts of Dr Garrigue, senior researcher at the Institute of Research for Development and scientific advisor to the local Opération Cétacés NGO. Genetic sampling and photographic identification have shown that this small population of humpback whales seasonally visiting New Caledonia is part of the Oceania breeding stock, currently classified as “endangered” in the IUCN Red List. Most recently, satellite tagging has revealed that habitat use of humpback whales in the region was not limited to coastal areas, and that large scale patterns of connectivity may exist between numerous off-shore breeding spots scattered within New Caledonian waters.
These discoveries, and the need to inform conservation of migratory species within the Natural Park of the Coral Sea created in 2014, have motivated a new research project in collaboration with the GEMM Lab that focuses on large scale habitat use of breeding humpback whales in New Caledonia. Based on a diversified dataset including research survey observations, crowd-sourced observations, ARGOS satellite tracking and acoustic sampling, we aim to 1) model the ecological niche occupied by humpback whales in New Caledonia, 2) identify priority areas of conservation within the Natural Park of the Coral Sea, 3) qualify the use of these areas, with specific emphasis on the use of off-shore seamounts, and 4) describe the connectivity existing between these areas and how humpback whales travel between them.
Ultimately, this project aims at disentangling the environmental drivers of humpback whale habitat use and movements around New Caledonia in order to better understand distributions in the broader context of the South Pacific breeding grounds. Indeed, sightings from all over Oceania will be combined in an integrative model to describe the diversity of habitats represented in the humpback whale breeding grounds of the South Pacific.
More information about this project:
A humpback whale showing its caudal fluke in front of the French oceanographic vessel Alis that allowed us to survey the remote Chesterfield reefs
Map of the New Caledonian Economic Exclusive Zones showing our long term study area, the South Lagoon, and the most recently explored study areas: the Chesterfield-Bellona reefs, Antigonia seamount, Orne Bank and Walpole Island.
Project WHERE: Humpback Whale Habitat Exploration to improve spatial management in the natural park of the CoRal Sea
Opération Cétacés website (in French)
Follow the whales migrating in Oceania
Video showing field work in the New Caledonian South Lagoon
French Institute of Research for Development (Entropie Lab)
South Pacific Whale Research Consortium
NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Laboratory (Dr Zerbini)
Opération Cétacés NGO
Funding for this project was provided by Fondation d’Entreprises Total, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Ministère de la Transition Ecologique et Solidaire, the New Caledonian Government, Province Nord, Province Sud, Province des Iles, Vale S.A. and the World Wide Fund for Nature.