Lately the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society has been sailing around using a very unique vessel: a double-hulled canoe, known as a waka. Wakas are a traditional type of Pacific Island boat that can range in size from small, unornamented vessels for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war canoes up to 40 metres in length. The Fiji Islands Voyaging Society is interested in paddling these wakas as a way to preserve the culture and traditions of early Pacific Voyagers – and are currently in training for a long-haul trip to Hawai’i next year.
During their travels it’s likely that the Voyagers will come across some interesting whales and dolphins … possibly adding to the understanding of cetacean diversity in Fiji. With this information gap (and the Voyagers thirst for knowledge) in mind WDCS and WWF convened a workshop last Friday to give some detailed instructions about cetacean species identification. We focused on the 30 Pacific species (see www.wdcs.org/publications under Science) including numerous large baleen whales (i.e., fin, Bryde’s and minke whales), toothed whales (i.e., sperm whale, melon-headed whale, false killer whale, short-finned pilot whale) and a whole host of dolphins (i.e., spinner, spotted, Fraser’s and Risso).
My approach was to draw the Voyagers attention to particular features and characteristics that are key for identification, such as head shape, whether flukes are raised when diving, colour patterns, dorsal and pectoral fin shape, group size, unique behaviour, and body size. Emphasis was made on simply observing and documenting these features and then working out later which species it was most likely to be.
We also spent time talking about how to describe various types of behaviours, cetacean acoustics, and data collection. Participants were mildly surprised (yet eager to show their knowledge) when I gave them a pop quiz at the end! The interesting sightings of the Voyagers will be documented within the Fijian national cetacean sightings database that is being compiled by the Fiji Fisheries Department staff with support from WDCS and WWF.
It was great to meet these adventurous Voyagers and I look forward to hearing about their future Pacific journeys and cetacean sightings.