Having left freezing Germany, Chantal Denise Pagel is adapting to the tropical heat as she brings her specialist knowledge to a voluntary internship with us here in Fiji. Chantal is a Masters student with a special interest in big ocean mammals, known as cetaceans, and will help apply some of the research we have undertaken on cetaceans in recent years. Her role is to ensure the integration of cetaceans within district and provincial management planning processes, to raise awareness of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape (between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu) as an important Whale Sanctuary and to help develop special management measures to improve conservation of cetaceans here in the future.
Chantal is particularly interested in the Oceania subpopulation of the endangered Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Humpbacks were spotted by the WCS team at several locations within the Vatu-i-Ra Channel, with the high abundance of mother-calf-pairs highlighting the importance of this passage for the species.
A range of other baleen and toothed whales are also found and Chantal has already encountered some of them on her first excursion in Fiji waters. “I was lucky to meet a pod of spinner dolphins on my very first day-trip, to Moon Reef off the coast of Tailevu. Jay, our local guide, knew them individually and his insight into each one was incredible.” She explained. “My previous experience with spinners in Mauritius had taught me that marine ecotourism isn’t always sustainable – tourist swimmers had chased and harassed the dolphins in search of a ‘personal experience’ to ‘take back home’. I was relieved to find the spinners here were relaxed as the boat approached, they were obviously happy in our company and looked in good condition.”
In her new role, Chantal has created a presentation for our upcoming village workshops in the province of Bua. “It explains what cetaceans are, what species occur in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape and the growing threats they face from pollution, fishing, shipping and climate change.”
WCS will also be gathering local stories about whales and dolphins from villagers. “I’m looking forward to finding out about their experiences and the special relationship with the ‘Tovuto’ which apparently has great cultural significance for Fijians.” Chantal explained. “I’m so happy to be learning and contributing to conservation here in Fiji.”