Abundance, Survival, Recruitment, and Realized Growth Rates of East Australia Humpback Whales

Project Name:  

Abundance, Survival, Recruitment and Realized Growth Rates of the East Australia Humpback Whales

Study System:

East Australian humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) – Vulnerable (Australian population)

Motivation and Goals:  

Little is known about the abundance of humpback whales in East Australia.  Through this project, we can begin to determine how changes in life history traits may in turn affect the overall size of the breeding stock.  Research on life history traits that affect abundance will aid in assessing the status of the species and potentially how these animals may respond if aspects of their life history are changed by interactions with human activities.  

Methods:

The Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale Catalog contains sighting data for over 6,000 individual whales. These data include information on minimum age and frequency of repeated sightings.  For this project, we are building statistical models based on our archived photo-identification catalog to estimate parameters related to population abundance.  

Results to Date:

Based on the catalog database from 1987 – 2007, there was a marked increase in the number of humpback whales using the Hervey Bay study site.  We also found that the life history traits of whales with repeated sightings differ from the traits of whales that were only seen in Hervey Bay once.  Whales with single sightings likely reflect whales rapidly moving through the study area.

Next Steps:

As the catalog continues to develop with more sightings of more individuals, we will be able to better estimate life history parameters.  Additional catalog data also increases the chances of repeated sightings of individuals that are currently in the database as only having a single sighting. 

Most Recent Publication:

2011: Forestell, P., Kaufman, G.D. and Chaloupka, M. Long term trends in abundance of humpback whales in Hervey Bay, Australia. Journal of Cetacean Research Management (Special Issue 3): 235-242.