Dolphins of the South Pacific

The Pacific Islands Region is purported to hold some of the most extensive and biologically diverse reefs in the world, the deepest ocean trenches, the world’s largest tuna fishery, as well as a range of globally threatened species such as sea turtles, dugongs and cetaceans.

The Pacific Islands Region stretches over some 10,000 kilometres from east to west and 5,000 kilometres from north to south, with a combined economic exclusion zone (EEZ) of approximately 30 million km². This region contains 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories, New Zealand, and part of both Australia and Hawaii. 

WDC began working in the Pacific Islands region more than 10 years ago with the goal of helping establish a regional Convention of Migratory Species Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region. This agreement was adopted in 2006. WDC then initiated research activities in 2008 and continues to work in close collaboration with the University of the South Pacific, regional governments and organisations, and local communities in implementing strategic and important cetacean conservation projects and initiatives.

WDC spearheaded various research studies on the behaviour, acoustics, habitat and site-fidelity of spinner dolphins in Fiji after iidentifying an important day-time resting habitat for a small population in a place called Moon Reef.

Moon Reef (known as Makalati in Fijian) is located in the Dawasamu district in north-eastern Viti Levu, Fiji Islands and our research indicates that on average about 50 individuals enter the reef in the morning (usually between 6 – 8am) and depart mid-afternoon (usually between 3 – 5pm). The predominant group behaviour of the dolphins while in Moon Reef is resting however, there is also a diurnal pattern with an increasing number of aerial and social behaviours being observed in the afternoon. More recently, research activities into acoustics have revealed that there are also diurnal patterns associated with the six different whistle types (i.e., upsweep, downsweep, concave, convex, sine and constant). Investigations into residency patterns have also revealed that a ‘core’ group of about 30 individuals is seen on a very regular basis within Moon Reef whereas others are seen only on occasion, or just once or twice. In total, more than 150 different dolphins have been catalogued in Moon Reef using photo-identification images.

As a result of the work carried out by WDC, Moon Reef was declared a Marine Protected Area in 2011.

Starting in 2014, WDC has partnered with the local district-wide environment committee, Dawasamu Environment Movement (DEM) in considering ways in which management and conservation of important flora and fauna might be undertaken. As the Dawasamu district community owns both the terrestrial and marine areas an ecosystem-based management plan approach is being explored. This process would look to not only raise awareness and provide resources for community members, but would also ensure that there is a significant amount of engagement and participation from the community. In addition, all relevant stakeholders such as various government departments, NGOs working in the district, provincial council, and the University of the South Pacific will be invited to be part of the consultation process. Furthermore, research activities on dolphins as well as other areas of importance such as fishing activity, deforestation, agriculture, river systems, and mangroves will continue to be undertaken to provide additional data for management planning.

WDC's overarching aim from working in the region is to build the capacity of regional students, government staff and communities through hands-on research activities and training. This is undertaken in close collaboration with the University of the South Pacific.