Bismarck Sea IMMA

Area Size

22 533 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Killer whale – Orcinus orca

Criterion C (1, 2)

Sperm whale – Physeter macrocephalus

Criterion A

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Criterion D (2)

Stenella longirostris, Tursiops truncatus, Tursiops aduncus, Stenella attenuata, Grampus griseus, Globicephala macrorhynchus, Ziphius cavirostris

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The Bismarck Sea of Papua New Guinea lies within the Indo-Pacific coral triangle, which is a global marine biodiversity hotspot. Consistent sightings of killer whales suggest that they are resident in Papua New Guinea, and the presence of calves and of feeding activity, have been recorded in the south of the Bismarck Sea IMMA, especially in Kimbe Bay. Large aggregations of spinner dolphins containing relatively high numbers of calves, and considerable numbers of sperm whales also occur in the Bismarck Sea. The significant species diversity of the area is underscored by the presence of six other cetacean species that have also been recorded.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

Sperm whales are listed as Vulnerable (A1d) on the IUCN Red List. In the 2001 Odyssey Cruise, Sperm whales were consistently reported in the Bismarck Sea in considerable numbers (Wise et al. 2011; Alexander et al. 2016; C.S. Baker, pers. comm). Sperm whales were subsequently detected acoustically during surveys in 2010, and in close visual proximity during surveys in 2013.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas

Orcinus orca – The evidence compiled by Visser and Bonocorso (2003) suggest that Killer whales may be resident in Papua New Guinea waters. Surveys in Kimbe Bay, as well as a review of documented records, indicated the presence of killer whales for 10 months of the year.  Killer whale calves were recorded during 13 sightings in March-May and July-Oct, with a peak in April (n = 5) (Visser & Bonaccorso 2003; Visser 2007, Visser unpubl. data).  Nine of the 13 sightings with calves were recorded in the Kimbe Bay area (Visser & Bonaccorso 2003, Visser unpubl. data). The work of Visser is now slightly dated as surveys were conducted in 2002 and 2003, however, there are continued observations of this species in the Bismarck Sea (S. Kaluwin, pers. comm) which strongly suggest the continued importance of this area to killer whales.

Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas

Orcinus orca –Killer whales in the Bismarck Sea have been observed feeding on four species of elasmobranchs (scalloped-hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini; grey reef shark, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos; manta ray, Manta birostris; and blue-spotted ray, Dasyatis kuhlii) and four species of fin-fish (yellow-fin tuna, Thunnus albacares; big-eye tuna, Thunnus obesus; IndoPacific sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus; and sunfish, Mola mola) (Visser 2007).  This information is now 15 years old, nevertheless, the relative spread and number of well-documented Orca sightings as well as additional records from across Papua New Guinea provide strong support for the ongoing presence of feeding killer whales in this area.

Criterion D: Special Attributes  

Sub-criterion D2: Diversity

Other cetacean species confirmed for the Bismarck Sea include: common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), and Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).  There have also been records of: pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps), blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei), melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra), and false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) – (Miller, 2009).

Supporting Information

Alexander, A., Steel, D., Hoekzema, K., Mesnick, S.N., Engelhaupt, D., Kerr, I., Payne, R., and Baker, C.S. 2016. What influences the worldwide genetic structure of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)?  Molecular Ecology doi: 10.1111/mec.13638.

Berzin, A. A.  1972.  The Sperm Whale (kashalot).  Israel Programme for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem, 394 pp.

Dawbin, W. H.  1972.  Dolphins and whales in P. Ryan (ed.) Encyclopedia of Papua and New Guinea, Melbourne University Press, in association with the University of Papua New Guinea, Melbourne, 270-276.

Frank, S.D., and Ferris, A.N. 2010. Analysis of cetacea vocalizations using ocean bottom seismic array observations, western Woodlark Basin, Papua New Guinea.  The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 127: 1971 (doi:

Frank, S.D., and Ferris, A.N. 2011. Analysis and localization of blue whale vocalizations in the Solomon Sea using waveform amplitude data. The Journal of Acoustical Society of America: 731–736.

Green, A., Lokani, P., Sheppard, S., Almany, J., Keu, S., Aitsi, J., Warku Karvon, J., Hamilton, R and G. Lipsett-Moore 2007. Scientific Design of a Resilient Network of Marine Protected Areas.  Kimbe Bay, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea. TNC Pacific Island Countries Report No. 2/07.

Lever, R. J. A. W.  1964.  Whales and whaling in the western Pacific.  South Pacific Bulletin 14(2):33-36.

Miller, C. and Rei, V. 2008.  The first Melanesian workshop on Cetacean Conservation – Madang, Papua New Guinea.  Workshop report, Madang, Papua New Guinea.

Miller, C. 2009. Current state of knowledge of cetacean threats, diversity and habitats in the Pacific Islands Region, 2009 revision. Accessed on 8 July, 2016.

Miller, C. and Rei, V.  Unpublished.  Cetacean diversity in the M’buke Islands, Admiralty Islands.  Survey report.  WDC and PNG DEC report.

Munday, P. 1994. Kimbe Bay Rapid Ecological Assessment. Volume 7: Marine Mammals.  Unpublished report to The Nature Conservancy, in association with Mahonia na Dari Conservation and Research Centre, P.O. Box 697, Kimbe, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Miyazaki, N. and Wada, S.  1978.  Observations of cetacea during whale marking cruise in the western tropical Pacific, 1976.  Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute, Tokyo 30:179-195.

Odyssey (online logs) 2001

Steinberg, C.R., Choukroun, S.M., Slivkoff, M.M., Mahoney, M.V., Brinkman, R.M, 2006. Currents in the Bismarck Sea and Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Australian Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy. TNC Pacific Island Countries Report No. 6/06.

Reeves, R. R., Leatherwood, S., Stone, G. S. and Eldredge, L. G. 1999.  Marine Mammals in the Area served by the South Pacific regional environment programme (SPREP).  South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Apia, Samoa.

Visser, I.N. and Bonoccorso, F. J.  2003. New observations and a review of a killer whale (Orcinus orca) sightings in Papua New Guinea waters.  Aquatic Mammals 29(1): 150-172.

Visser, I.N. 2003. Kimbe Bay Second Marine Mammal Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA), April 2003. The Nature Conservancy (unpublished report) [URL]

Visser, I.N. 2007. Killer whales in Papua New Guinea waters.  International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee SC/59/SM20.

UNEP-WCMC (United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre).  2003.  Checklist of mammals listed in the CITES appendices and in EC regulation 338/97.  6th Edition.  JNCC Report No. 342.

Wise Sr., J.P., Thompson, W.D., Wise, SS., La Certe, C. 2011. A global assessment of gold, titanium, strontium and barium pollution using sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) as an indicator species. Journal of Ecosystem & Ecography 1(1): 1–8.


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