Our Story

 

Oma Tafua was founded in 2005 – the same year Niue’s Plan of Management for its Whale Sanctuary was developed following comprehensive consultation with key stakeholders.  Note that in 2003 Niue’s national waters were declared as a National Whale Sanctuary.  In 2006, with the help of a small grant by the New Zealand High Commission, Oma was able to launch its first “raising awareness campaign”.


In 2008, a 10 day pilot survey with the then team of 4 (Fiafia Rex, Olive Andrews, Schannel van Dijken and Vanessa Marsh) revealed 41 sightings of cetaceans, with over 50 encounters of humpback whales of which 3 included mother/calf pairs.  One animal seen here in Niue was also seen in Tonga in 2006.  Three skin samples were also collected providing valuable information for regional population genetics assessments.  (Note however that several seasons of data are needed in order to assess population abundance.)

  
In 2010, two additional team members to Niue’s Whale Research Team – Ben Parangi and Cara Blomfield proved yet another successful year for research findings.  That year, two new species were documented adding to Niue’s marine mammal species inventory.  These two species were Sei whales and Sperm Whales.  To add, eight photo IDs along with a skin sample were collected.  That year Niue’s whale song made debut on the Team’s tracklist, but, what was even more impressive was a documented song change.  This is rare and one of many amazing experiences being on Niue’s Whale Research Team!  Two whale songs sung in the one season – never documented before!


The Niue Whale Research Team and members that make up Oma Tafua are all volunteers that contribute to meeting Niue’s objectives under the Plan of Management for Niue’s Whale Sanctuary, as with other regional programmes such as the SPREP Whale and Dolphin Action Plan.

 

Whales in Niuean Culture

 
 

A whale chant practiced many centuries ago in Niue...

“Ulu ulu ta pekelei, Liti hake e tama kula, liti hake e tama kula, ke kitia…u oi.”


Niueans call it AMU-AMU TAFUA! which really means they are chanting to the whale to toss their baby whale (or calf) out of the water for them to see. Modern terminology for this would be our calls for the whale to “breach”.

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The Legend of Mataginifale

Legend goes a woman called "Mataginifale" was swallowed up by a whale at Oneonepata, Avatele, a village in Niue and taken to Tonga where she was said to have taught the art of child birth to the Tongan people.

It is by our Niuean heritage that whales continue to be of cultural and spiritual significance to our people.

Not only have we historically protected our whales but we continue to share modern values with our whales such as whale watching where we welcome their journey and watch them play, rest, breed and mate in their home – our waters.

Whales are considered harmless creatures and are regarded as such by Niueans as a good omen.  This is because:  

  • It’s believed there’s an abundance of fish (e.g. wahoo –a very prized ocean resource especially for a really good ota) during the whale season;
  • Also, seeing a mom and calf presents good luck for pregnant woman.

 

Our Culture

Our Culture has taught us what is important which, as Rawiri Paratene said so eloquently “is our long standing relationship” with our Oceans and Resources. It is this culture which has taught Niueans Respect and Custodianship of our Ocean and Whales.

 

FUN FACT
A Pacific Island colleague once said that “these whales (referring to “Humpback Whales”) are more Pacific Islander than the Pacific Islanders overseas.  Not only are they born back home (the islands), but if nothing stops them they continue to come home.”  And we want them home. Whales thus are an iconic symbol of the Pacific and a mana/taoga of Niue.