Cetacean spotting in Vatu-i-ra Seascape

Watching cetaceans play in waters of Fiji’s Vatu-i-Ra Seascape was a lovely experience. The whales and dolphins love to entertain while they guide travelers during bad weather, according to the village elders. Their performances are so varied; they breach, spin, spy-hop (when dolphins pop their heads above the surface and look around), flap their tail or flippers – all part of their communication system, but an amazing display of behaviour for us. They also make different noises underwater, sometimes to attract mates or just talk to each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was part of the 2012 WCS Fiji Cetacean Hotspot Survey (1st to 11th August), together with Margy and Waisea, community representatives, and Dr Cara Miller from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) as the cetacean expert to guide us. We were hosted in the beautiful village of Nasau in Ra Province, northeastern Viti Levu, where we were welcomed with lot of excitement.

On Day 1 of the survey we were rewarded with a sighting of a humpback whale as soon as we reached Vatu-i-Ra Island – a tiny speck in the waters of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, over 20 km from the nearest land. We started by testing two different methods for recording sightings: boat transects and land-based sightings from a vantage point with a 360° view of the open ocean. Later the land-based team joined the boat team due to bad weather preventing clear sightings from land. Day 2 was a day without any sightings, although we did manage to record some faint whale songs. I was getting anxious, hoping I would catch some close-up glimpses of the whales and dolphins recorded in previous years. Things improved on Day 3 as we spotted a pod of Bottlenose dolphin adults with calves – they were cute, fat, and fast swimmers. Much to our delight, one of the calves was spy-hoping while our cameras snapped. The same day we encountered a pod of Shortfin pilot whales scattered over a larger area, with one of the group coming to check us out – you can see a short clip of his visit below!

We had evening events every night where Waisea explained the day’s happenings to the villagers and we showed them videos, pictures and songs. All songs were recorded using a hydrophone provided by WDCS, so that the songs could be analysed later and compared cetacean songs from other regions. Some of the songs we recorded on Day 4 sounded like whale and dolphin rap, where the whales would sing first and the dolphins would respond to it! The adventure continued with plenty of whales and dolphins sighted on the 4th day – Spinner dolphins, Shortfin pilot whales and Humpback whales were all there, swimming happily in the water. After a break on Sunday, we were welcomed on Monday with deteriorating weather which restricted us to land-based survey for a few days. Finally we managed to complete our last few boat transects, with a few more sightings and songs recorded.

I returned very happy because we saw so many different cetaceans, and recorded songs almost every day – it was an adventurous trip!

WCS Fiji gratefully acknowledge funding from The Marisla Foundation to carry out this work.

Goby hits IUCN Species Forum

The IUCN Species Forum earlier this month was a positive experience for WCS Fiji’s Kini Koto (aka KK), who attended the conference to present some of our work, and to distribute copies of The Adventures of Joji Goby, our comic. The conference theme of Moving from Science to Conservation focused minds on trying to restore and maintain some of the world’s Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable and endemic species.

KK presented on Human and climate impacts on decline of Fiji’s threatened freshwater fishes – a topic about which the audience had plenty of questions regarding the threats faced by these fish and the conservation actions being taken. WCS Fiji, in Moving from Science to Conservation, have carried out marine and freshwater scientific research, and provided the results of this research back to communities through consultation workshops. These workshops are designed to help communities learn about best-practice for looking after their natural resources, and to identify the best locations to protect in order to conserve these resources. Future food security is a major consideration in these decisions, since rural communities in Vanua Levu depend heavily on the environment to provide their subsistence needs. Communities sit together – either in villages or tribes – as they decide on protected areas covering their forests, rivers, mangroves and coral reefs. After drawing the protected area (tabu) boundaries, the communities write management rules for these areas and for the wider district.

Not only does the process of establishing management rules involve the men, women and youth from each village, but WCS Fiji are also getting the attention of school children, through a comic book about the adventurous lifecycle of a freshwater goby. The comic book is presented to schools alongside a puppet show to bring the conservation message to life (KK plays the hero, Joji Goby, in the show!). KK was delighted to hand-deliver the comic book to the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Gordon Darcy Lilo, who was a special guest at the IUCN Species Forum. The icing on the cake was an invitation from Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, who asked WCS Fiji to become a member of the IUCN/Wetlands International Freshwater Fish Specialist group.

The production of the comic book and puppet shows were made possible by the kind support of the Disney Friends for Change Programme.

Joji Goby and his friends Crab and Snail

Enigmatic dolphins & whales from the Bay of Bengal

Staff from WCS Fiji joined their WCS Bangladesh counterparts in conducting research on dolphins and whales found in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh. For WCS Fiji Field Officers, Margaret Fox and Waisea Naisilisili, this research was part of their training on how to conduct whale and dolphin surveys, with their new skills to be put into practice in Fiji.

It was the first time in this region for the two Fijians and they had an amazing experience in working with the WCS staff from Bangladesh and soaking up the lifestyle and culture of this country. The highlights of their trip started with their journey downriver where they encountered the enigmatic river dolphins, the Irrawaddy and Ganges River dolphins, through to the Sundarban Reserve. This reserve boasts the largest block of mangrove forest in the world and hosts a multitude of species including the rare Royal Bengali tigers, crocodiles, monkeys, deer, various birds, fish, mammals and plants. They continued on to the Bay of Bengal where they conducted extensive studies on the resident but timid Humpback dolphins while also encountering pods of Bottlenose dolphins, Finless porpoises and a Bryde’s Whale.

This intense and informative research trip provided a great insight on the biodiversity and human induced impacts on natural resources from another region, while also training the WCS Fiji staff on the various methodologies that can be applied when conducting scientific surveys on dolphins and whales in Fiji.

 

Comics Delight Kids

WCS Fiji have just returned from launching a comic book titled “The Adventurers of Joji Goby” at 5 different schools in Kubulau and Wainunu, Bua. The comic is about the life-cycle of Joji a freshwater goby, which hatches in freshwater before migrating to sea as larvae and migrating back as post-larvae. Joji met with a lot of obstacles upon his return journey, on his quest to find his parents. The launch included a puppet show of Joji’s adventure followed by the designation of Goby Youth Ambassadors for each village, who will help with the enforcement of rules in ecosystem-based management plans for the two districts. The comic was created using funds from the Disney Friends for Change Program. You can see more photos of the launch and the very special puppets on the WCS Fiji Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/wcsfijiprogram.

Launch of Ecotales from Kubulau

Launch of Ecotales from Kubulau

 

WCS Fiji today hosted the launch of “Ecotales from Kubulau”, a joint publication by WCS Fiji and the Coral Reef Alliance to showcase the remarkable plants and animals that are both astounding in their beauty, and culturally important to the people who live in the Vatu‐i‐Ra Seascape. It is our hope that the guide will raise awareness about the importance of the plants and animals to local livelihoods, cultures, and ecosystem functions. The stories in these pages come directly from the elders of Kubulau, who have described their associations with species for medicine, decorative arts, building materials, food, and totem spirits. By collecting these stories, the traditional knowledge that is rapidly fading away with modernization can now be preserved for the youth of Kubulau and the Vatu‐i‐Ra Seascape. Proceeds from the sale of the guide will directly support ecosystem management and community development in Kubulau. “Ecotales from Kubulau” is available to purchase from the University of the South Pacific Book Centre, either in their Suva store or the online shop. The production of the book was generously supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. 

Click play below to watch news coverage on Fiji One about “Ecotales from Kubulau”, a joint WCS Fiji and CORAL publication.