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Satellite Tagging Humpbacks in the South Pacific: Windows on the Whales’ World

humbpack and researchers
Satellite tagging can provide valuable information for the conservation and management of humpback whales. Photograph Copyright 2007 Paul Hilton/Greenpeace International.

Scientists Alex Zerbini and Phil Clapham with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory’s (NMML) Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program participated in setting up a satellite tagging project for humpback whales in the Cook Islands (South Pacific) beginning in August 2006. The work was conducted in collaboration with Nan Hauser (Cook Islands Whale Research), the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. NMML provided three Argos-monitored satellite tags and methodological expertise; the tags were deployed by Hauser and her field team, which included Ygor Geyer from Zerbini’s Brazilian research group. Their efforts led to the first documented migratory movement of any humpback whale in the South Pacific and the first connection of any kind between the Cook Islands and a high-latitude feeding ground.

This year (2007), scientists working in the South Pacific were funded by Greenpeace International to conduct a collaborative satellite tagging project in two locations: New Caledonia and the Cook Islands. New Caledonia was chosen because this is one of the small, unrecovered populations about which we have considerable concern relative to the imminent Japanese whaling effort. Dr. Claire Garrigue of Operation Cétacés, who directs the study of humpback whales in New Caledonia, estimates that the population is in the low hundreds, with little sign of recovery from whaling. Given its location, we had strong suspicions that the New Caledonia humpbacks migrate into the Area V feeding grounds, which will be one focus of Japan’s scientific whaling in the coming years; and, indeed, a recent genetic match of a whale moving between these two areas has confirmed this. Read the complete article. (pdf; 4,06MB)


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