The Samoa Ocean Strategy 2020 – 2030 (SOS) underlines the vital importance of monitoring and researching marine life as integral elements of its overarching strategic priorities. 

In line with this commitment, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Conservation International successfully completed a recent 2-week survey around Upolu and Savaii to document humpback whales as well as other whale and dolphin species present in Samoa’s waters.

Humpback whales in the Oceania region are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They travel to the warmer waters of the Pacific from the months of July – November to give birth and breed before migrating back to the Antarctic waters to feed. During this time, humpback whales can be seen close to the reefs mainly along the southern coasts of Upolu and other parts of the island.

The survey primarily focused on documenting humpback whales through photo-identification to enhance the understanding and knowledge of whales, dolphins and their populations and habitat in Samoa’s waters. Furthermore, the survey provided valuable hands-on training in the methodology, species identification and data collection techniques, with the aim of equipping local personnel and trained volunteers with the expertise needed to conduct cetacean surveys. 

Sightings of large pods of spinner dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and possible humpback whales were recorded during the survey. These sightings will contribute towards better understanding and documenting of whale and dolphin species – invaluable information for developing the Samoa National Marine Sanctuary Management Plan. While this survey focused on whales and dolphins, it also provided an opportunistic chance to photograph and document seabirds at sea which will also contribute towards developing an inventory of seabirds for Samoa. 

This work also aligns to the Pacific Islands Regional Marine Species Programme 2022 – 2026, a regional strategy designed to support Pacific island countries on conservation and the management of iconic species including dugongs, marine turtles, sharks, rays, seabirds, whales and dolphins. It identifies regional priorities including research and monitoring, capacity building and collaboration, cultural significance and more under a species action plan. 

Vitolina Ah Kau, Marine Conservation Officer stated, “I was really excited to participate in this survey because it was my first-time encountering whales and dolphins up close and I was amazed to see the different dolphin species as well as observing their unique and various behaviours”.

“Although we were not able to photograph humpback whales this year, we were still able to document spinner dolphins and short-finned pilot whales and the build the capacity of the MNRE team to identify the different species, observe their behaviours as well as showing the team what to photograph when working with these species,” stated Juney Ward, Acting Marine and Coastal Adviser, SPREP.

The survey was implemented with funding support through the United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) on Safeguarding Samoa’s Ecosystem Services (SSES) and from Conservation International.

This story was originally published at SPREP on 13 November 2023, reposted via PACNEWS.

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