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Fiji joins South Pacific countries in protecting whales

Environmental News Network

From International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
14th March 2003
Sydney, Australia

Whales in the southern Pacific Ocean will be safer following the Fijian government's announcement of the establishment of a whale sanctuary in its territorial waters. The announcement comes just months before the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meets in Berlin, Germany to discuss the current ban on commercial whaling.

Like much of the southern Pacific, the Fijian Exclusive Economic Zone contains essential winter breeding grounds for whales. This new sanctuary will ensure the free passage of whales across Fijian waters and provide a much-needed opportunity for whales to both breed and care for their young in safety.

According to recent research funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), whale populations around Fiji are only just recovering from commercial whaling. Preliminary results from this study indicate current populations of humpback whales in Fijian waters may be as low as 8% of that recorded in the 1950s.

IFAW's Asia Pacific director, Michael McIntyre, has welcomed the establishment of the sanctuary as a practical response to these findings saying, "the actions of the Fijian government sends a clear message that these populations of whales need to be, and will be protected."

Fiji joins a growing number of south Pacific countries including Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, and French Polynesia that are actively protecting whales and other marine life in their national waters.

The government of Fiji said the sanctuary would enhance local eco-tourism as well as demonstrating Fiji's commitment to raising public awareness of marine biodiversity.

McIntyre stressed the importance of the new sanctuary in developing sustainable policies for the region and he looks forward to, "this new sanctuary becoming part of a proposed South Pacific Whale Sanctuary, which is being considered at the June meeting of the IWC."

"There is strong support across the region for the establishment of the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary," he added.