The Cook Islands has been applauded for its marine management at this week’s Whales in a Changing Ocean Conference underway in Nuku’alofa.

The country recently announced all water within its 50 nautical mile zone would be protected from commercial fishing,

The government wants to reduce interaction between commercial fishers and whales within Cook Islands waters.

The Cook Islands Minister of Environment, Kiriau Turepu, says his country recognises the importance of whales in the oceans, environment, economy and culture.

He says calving happens in Cooks’ waters, which makes them even more special to Cook Islanders.

Delegates at the conference have spoken of their hopes for raising the region’s standards on ocean stewardship and natural resource management.

The Cook Islands decision aligns with an existing commitment from the government to exclude any activities around seabed minerals from within 50 nautical miles of any of its islands.

“The Cook Islands has also declared its entire EEZ as a Marae Moana – Marine Park,” said Mr Turepu.

The Humpback Whale, a well-known species to the Cook Islands, visits from June to October each year, using the group as a corridor to migrate to its true breeding ground in Tonga.

A unique characteristic of the Cook Island Humpback population is the observation of zero fidelity.

In seven years of research, only two whales have returned to the Cook Islands, and all others recorded in Cook Islands waters have been new visitors.

Humpbacks tend to return to the same area.

Humpback Whale

“We continue to strengthen our commitment to recognising the value of whales in the Cook Islands, having declared our entire EEZ, an area of almost 2 million square kilometres as a sanctuary for whales in 2001,” said Minister Turepu.

Sixteen years ago the Cook Islands promised to promote non-lethal scientific research on whales, collaboration for information exchange, education and awareness initiatives as well as best practice management for interaction with whales in its waters.