Posted on: August 5, 2013

PWF Begins 26th Season of Humpback Whale Research in Hervey Bay, Australia

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers began their first official day of their 26th humpback whale research season in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia on Monday, August 5, 2013. 
 
"We could not have asked for better start on such a beautiful sunny day, with two pods of two sub-adults mugging the research vessel, spyhoping, swimming right under the vessel and circling around us," reports Dr. Emmanuelle Martinez, Senior Research Scientist at Pacific Whale Foundation and leader of the Australia project. "Our team caught a few whale blows in the face! In all, we encountered a total of three pods and five sub-adults."
 
The research team also includes Research Assistant Alyssa Firkus, and two interns Kelly Mackarous, and Allison McGrath, and is assisted by Andrew Ellis, Australia Operations Manager for Pacific Whale Foundation. 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation's Australia research team works from a 6.5-meter long rigid inflatable vessel out of Urangan Harbour, using photo-identification to gather data for Pacific Whale Foundation's catalog of individually identified humpback whales from the Southern Hemisphere. With more than 6,000 whales, this is the largest catalog of Southern Hemisphere humpback whales in the world. The catalog provides detailed data on humpback whale life history, behavior, spatial distribution and human impacts.
 
In addition, the team is gathering data to support the following ongoing Pacific Whale Foundation studies:
 
An Assessment of Connectivity and Interchange Between Humpback Whale Aggregation Areas along East Australia:
The study uses photo-identification surveys of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) at four locations along the east coast of Australia to better define the east Australian calving grounds, determine connectivity and rates of interchange between regions, and document habitat use within each aggregation area. The findings will also be used to generate refined estimates of population status and reproductive parameters. This research will contribute to the conservation of humpback whales by providing managers with insight into population parameters, critical habitats and migratory pathways, thereby addressing high priorities of Federal/State management plans and the International Whaling Commission.
 

Calving Rates and Intervals of East Australian Female Humpback Whales:
The study also uses photo-identification surveys of humpback whale mothers and calves to determine calving intervals and rates for east Australia (Breeding Stock E-1) humpback whales.
 
Rate of Interchange Between East Australia (Breeding Stock E-1) and West Australia (Breeding Stock D) Humpback Whales
Using photo-identification, this study documents the rate of interchange between east Australia (Breeding Stock E-1) and west Australia (Breeding Stock D) humpback whales.
 
Abundance, Survival, Recruitment and Realized Growth Rates of the East Australia Humpback Whales (Breeding Stock  E-1)
This project estimates the abundance, survival, recruitment and growth rates of the east Australia humpback whales.
 
"Photo-identification involves photographing the underside of the whale's tail, or its flukes," comments Dr. Martinez. "Each whale's flukes have unique shapes, markings and pigmentation patterns, allowing it to serve as a type of 'fingerprint' that's unique to the individual whale."
 
"As researchers gather these fluke i.d. photos, they are also recording the exact location where each fluke photo is taken using a GPS, the whale's initial behaviors and pod composition as well as other relevant observations," she says. 
 
"In the early years of Pacific Foundation Research work, photo-identification data were recorded on photographic slides. A trained researcher visually compared new slides of individual animals against the catalog of previously identified individual whales, to look for matching flukes, or 'resights,'" Dr. Martinez notes. "Later, photos were captured with digital cameras and the researchers visually compared new flukes against existing individuals in our catalog on computer screens."
 
 In addition, Pacific Whale Foundation is developing a new online citizen science program named "Whale Tale" that will invite individuals from around the world to assist with the matching tail flukes. 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation is a contributing member of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, a multi-lateral, non-lethal scientific research program aimed to improve the coordinated and cooperative delivery of science to the International Whaling Commission. Greg Kaufman, founder and Executive Director of Pacific Whale Foundation, is an invited participant and member of the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committe and has presented research papers from Pacific Whale Foundation's Australia research to the IWC's Scientific Committee's annual meeting for several years.
 
Pacific Whale Foundation launched its first studies of humpback whales found off the coast of Australia in 1984. Since then, Pacific Whale Foundation has published numerous articles, scientific papers and four books about humpback whales of the Pacific. 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation's research in Hervey Bay will continue until the end of September. The researchers will then move to Eden, New South Wales, to study humpback whales in a feeding area along the whale's seasonal migration route.
 
Pacific Whale Foundation's research in Australia is permitted by the New South Wales Government, Office of Environment and Heritage; Queensland Government, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation; Queensland Government, Department of Environment and Resource Management; Queensland Government, Environmental Protection Agency; Queensland Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; and Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Environment and Water Resources. 
 
Data collected by Pacific Whale Foundation are provided to these government agencies to aid in the management of marine wildlife.
 
Pacific Whale Foundation also conducts research studies in Ecuador and Hawaii, and provides financial support to blue whale research in Chile. 
 
Funding for Pacific Whale Foundation's research is supported by profits from the organization's whalewatches and other ocean ecotours in Hawaii, as well as sales from its Ocean Stores in Hawaii and Australia, and from Porto, its flame-fired artisan pizza restaurant on Maui. Donations from tens of thousands of supporters worldwide also make support this research. 
 
To learn more about Pacific Whale Foundation's research, please visit http://www.pacificwhale.org/content/australia-research