Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae
Fijian name: Tovuto
The humpback whale is a large baleen whale that feeds on krill and schooling fish. Females can grow to be 19 m long (17 m for males), and the maximum recorded weight for this species is 40 tonnes.
Humpback whales are well known for their songs. Male humpbacks have the longest and most elaborate songs of any whale species. Their songs consist of a complex series of whistles, squeals, and deep sonorous calls that are divided into 'verses' and sung in a specific order. The songs may last for as long as half an hour. Whales in the same breeding ground sing the same song, which evolves over time.
Humpback whales are highly migratory, and travel the longest distance of any mammal on earth. Whales feeding in the Antarctic will travel all the way to Columbia and Panama to breed. Humpbacks can swim at 25 km per hour or faster, although they travel at a slower rate during migration, occasionally resting and socialising along the way. Some of these pods come to Fiji to breed and calve, and pods of humpback whales can be regularly sighted in Fiji from August to October. The Vatu-i-Ra Seascape is a corridor in their migration route.
After commercial whaling greatly reduced humpback numbers, global protection has helped some of their populations to recover. However, the Oceania sub-population of humpbacks is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and is still classified under the most endangered categories of CITES and the Convention on Migratory Species. Fiji is strongly committed to conserving cetaceans as evidenced by its declaration in March 2003 of its Exclusive Economic Zone as a Whale Sanctuary, providing protection from directed hunts for cetaceans over 1.3 million km2, and its signing in September 2006 of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region, negotiated under the United Nations Environmental Program’s Convention on Migratory Species.
Since 2010, the WCS-Fiji program has been working with WCS Ocean Giants researcher Brian Smith to: (1) increase the capacity of local scientists and resource managers to conduct research on the Oceania sub-population of humpback whales and implement effective strategies for their conservation; (2) preliminarily assess the conservation status of all cetacean populations in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape; and (3) raise awareness among local people about cetaceans in Fijian waters and on efforts to conserve them in other areas of the world. Through our research efforts, we have identified a previously unknown breeding location around Vatu-i-Ra Reef. We hope to work closely with local communities from Ra Province to establish effective management measures while investigating the possibility of eco-tourism opportunities.