Dynamics of extralimital feedingby humpback whales off Eden, NSW

Project Name:
Dynamics of extralimital feedingby humpback whales off Eden, NSW

Project Dates:
Ongoing

Project Site(s):
Eden, NSW

Project Aims:
Determine the frequency, range, sex and age class groups of humpback whales involved in extralimital feeding off Eden, NSW.

Project Justification:
There is some evidence of humpback whale feeding opportunistically at low- to mid- latitudes in known breeding grounds and during migration. However, feeding behavior in east Australia has been observed more regularly than anywhere else in the world. Opportunistic feeding on sporadic prey patches of enough density may be critical to survival of juvenile whales, who have thinner blubber layers than adults (Pinto de sa Alvez, 2009). However, substantial data sets involving feeding in extralimital areas are scanty.

PWF (2011) reported the results of long-term opportunistic humpback whale feeding behavior observations by humpback whales off Eden, New South Wales between 1995 and 2010. This is the most extensive record of extralimital feeding currently in existence for this area or any mid-migration region. The data, however, were preliminary and more systematic observations and analysis are needed to better understand the frequency of extralimital feeding, the sex and age groups of the whales involved and the relationship between the frequency of occurrence of feeding and oceanographic variables.

Project Methodology:
Prey samples will be collected using plankton tows and preserved accordingly.  Acoustical recordings will be collected from feeding and non-feeding whales. Feeding and non-feeding behaviours will be recorded and correlated to environmental and GIS technology.  Digital fluke and lateral body photographs will be collected for each identified whale using established procedures and Canon 5D and Canon 7D digital cameras equipped with motor drives and 100-300mm or 70-200mm lenses (Forestell et al. 2003). Identification photographs will be compared to Pacific Whale Foundation's Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale Catalogue. 

Project Permits:
Historical data collected under prior permits. 

Current research:

  • NSW Government, Office of Environment and Heritage: Permit Number SL100195
  • Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Environment and Water Resources: Permit Number C2011-003 

Animal Ethics Approvals:

  • NSW Government, Department of Industry and Investment, Animal Research Authority, Animal Care and Ethics Committee

Collaborators:
Cat Balou, University of Queensland

Management Outcomes:
A better understanding of the functioning of oceanographic processes on a year-to-year basis off Eden and adjacent regions is critical to improving our knowledge of humpback whale feeding.  Comprehending the complexities and role extralimital feeding off Eden may play in the migratory processes, fitness and survival of east Australia humpback whales is crucial.

Publications/Presentations: 

See Pacific Whale Foundation Publication/Presentation Summary