Pacific nations join forces to save the whales

Posted on 13 August 2003  | 
Auckland, New Zealand - WWF today hails 11 Pacific nations for their leadership in establishing an unprecedented number of national whale sanctuaries. Together, the sanctuaries cover over 28 million sq km of ocean and create a blueprint for whale conservation and the management of shared marine resources all over the world.

The South Pacific Ocean is the world's largest marine habitat, containing critical breeding grounds and migratory routes for 11 of the world’s great whale species. The Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Niue, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia and New Zealand have either declared their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) as whale sanctuaries or are taking action to protect whales through national legislation.

“WWF applauds the governments of the Pacific for making this commitment to guarantee the future of these special animals, the cultural traditions and values they embody, and the region's living marine resources,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF's international Species Programme.

“These sanctuaries, which WWF is recognising as a ‘Gift to the Earth’, will help ensure threatened whale populations recover."

The establishment of whale sanctuaries will boost the region's tourism industry. Whale watching has doubled in the past 10 years and is now one of the fastest growing branches of the tourism industry. Internationally, more than nine million tourists took part in whale watching in 2000 generating revenue of US$ 1 billion. WWF believes that whale watching can provide a unique opportunity to build and ensure sustainable livelihoods for local communities while also protecting and valuing marine biodiversity.

“Combined with a well-defined management plan, these whale sanctuaries will help ensure that vulnerable whale populations can recover and will serve as an invaluable tool for marine conservation and development, including ecotourism and fisheries management,” added Dr Lieberman.

The sanctuaries, which WWF helped secure, include long-standing commitments made by New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, and Vanuatu, and demonstrate the commitment of Pacific nations to the conservation of whales. The sanctuaries also complement the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which contains the Antarctica feeding grounds for the whale species that travel to the South Pacific to breed and calve.

Notes to Editors:
  • The ‘Gift to the Earth’ is a public celebration and recognition by WWF of a globally significant conservation action by a government, a company, an organisation or an individual. The event on August 13 is co-hosted by WWF and the government of New Zealand.
  • 11 great whale species are known to occur in the South Pacific region. Almost all of these species have been commercially hunted in the region and as a consequence the blue, fin, right, humpback and sperm whales are the most severely depleted.
  • Humpback whales breed in different places at different times therefore it is critical that whale sanctuaries are not limited to only a few small areas in the South Pacific.
  • Whale watching is now a thriving industry in Tonga, generating around US$1 million dollars annually for the Tongan economy.

For further information:

Angela Heck
WWF-New Zealand
Tel. +64 25 477 158

Matthew Davis
WWF Species Programme
Tel. +44 7768 867272

Mitzi Borromeo
WWF International
Tel. +41 22 364 9562
Eleven great whale species are known to occur in the South Pacific region, including the sperm whale.
© WWF-Canon / Stephen Dawson Enlarge
As humpback whales breed in different places at different times, it is critical that whale sanctuaries are not limited to the South Pacific.
© WWF-Canon / Jim Darling Enlarge

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