Pacific Islands Cetaceans

This MOU was concluded under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in partnership with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and came into effect on 12 September 2006. It will remain open for signature indefinitely. The MOU covers all populations of cetaceans in the Pacific Islands Region (area between the Tropic of Cancer and 60 degrees South latitude and between 130 degrees East longitude and 120 degrees West longitude). It aims to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status for all cetaceans and their habitats occurring in the region.

Cetaceans in the Pacific Islands Region

Whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) migrate over large distances, connecting ocean ecosystems and cultures throughout the Pacific Islands Region. During the last century, many larger whale species became endangered due to commercial whaling. Although protected by an international moratorium on whaling, most of these species that frequent the Pacific Islands Region remain endangered or vulnerable.

To provide an international framework for coordinated conservation efforts, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was launched on 15 September 2006. The MOU was negotiated under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), in collaboration with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The MOU includes plans to protect and conserve Pacific cetaceans and their habitats, including their migratory corridors.

Conservation Status

Cetaceans evolved from land mammals approximately 50 million years ago. While thoroughly adapted to sea life, they retain some traces of their evolutionary past. Cetaceans bear live young and feed them milk, investing heavily in the upbringing and development of each offspring. Cetaceans live long, mature late, reproduce slowly and engage in complex social relationships. They are capable advanced activities including echolocation and long-distance communication, which provide them with sophisticated tools to perceive and understand their environment. A complex respiratory system allows them to spend long stretches under water, but they must surface regularly to breath air.

The spectacular leaps of whales and dolphins above the water’s surface, as well as the sounds some species use to communicate and function underwater, fascinate humans. In many communities, there are significant cultural connections between cetaceans and humans. In much of the Pacific Islands Region, whale and dolphin watching is a growing tourist industry of importance to the region.

The survival of many cetacean populations that frequent the waters of the Pacific Islands Region, particularly those that have been severely depleted, can be affected by interactions with fisheries, hunting, pollution, collisions with boats, noise, habitat degradation, climate change, disruption of food chains and irresponsible tourism. The MOU’s Action Plan addresses these and other threats to cetaceans in the Pacific Islands Region.

Action Plan

The MOU was begun in an effort to bring coherence to ongoing cetacean conservation activities across the range. CMS’s key partner has been SPREP, an international environmental organization created by the governments and administrators of the Pacific Islands Region. SPREP developed a Whale and Dolphin Action Plan, which was adopted in 2003 and will be revised in 2007. This plan was appended to the MOU and forms the basis for on-the-ground conservation efforts throughout the region.


Cetacean migration routes pass through the coastal waters of various countries and territories as well as the high seas. The MOU provides an intergovernmental framework for governments, scientists and other groups to monitor and coordinate ongoing and necessary conservation efforts. Through this MOU, the Pacific Islands Region seeks to foster cooperation, build capacity and ensure coordinated region-wide conservation for cetaceans and their habitats, as well as to safeguard the cultural values cetaceans have for the people of the Pacific Islands.

Numerous programmes are already underway and support the MOU’s implementation. Countries have looked to standardize how they report and collect data from stranded cetaceans. Studies have been undertaken to look at the interactions between cetaceans and commercial fishing. Educational programmes have helped connect local communities to conservation efforts.

A public education initiative has raised awareness of the threats caused to marine and bird life by ocean pollution. Cetaceans are vulnerable to getting tangled in plastic debris and there have been documented cases of cetaceans mistaking plastic bags for food, which can be lethal. Several governments have reacted to the “plastic plague” by banning importation of plastic bags and strengthening solid waste control plans.


Titlesort descending Status Status date CMS Party number Region
Vanuatu MOU Signatory 2006 AM Oceania
Wallis and Futuna (France) Range State 32 Indian Ocean


Instrument nameMemorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region
TypeArticle IV(4)
DepositaryCMS Secretariat
SignatureSigned by 15 States and 7 Collaborating Organizations (for details please scroll to 'other' and 'MoU Signatory')
In effectImmediately following the signature by the fourth State; open for signature indefinitely, will become effective for each subsequent Range State or Territory on the date of signature
Actually in effect12 September 2006
Website URL
OtherSigned also by 7 Collaborating Organizations: CMS Secretariat (15.09.06), Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) Secretariat (15.09.06), International Fund for Animal Welfare (15.09.06), Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (15.09.06), WWF International (06.03.07), Whales Alive (29.07.09) and South Pacific Whale Research Consortium (29.07.09)

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