Peak whale-watching season is currently underway in Australia! Pacific Whale Foundation was established on Maui in 1980 to protect humpback whales from extinction and our research and conservation programs began in Australia not long after – 1984. We also conduct exciting and educational whale-watching ecotours in Australia to help fund this vital work. Travel along with us as we share an update on our ecotours and Research, Education and Conservation programs for the 2021 season.
Unfortunately, we are unable to introduce those from overseas to our Australian humpback whales, as Australia is still closed to international travelers, however it looks like Hervey Bay will be open for Australians within all of Queensland to visit!
We would like to welcome two new members to our team, Sara Perrott and Darcy Stirling, both joining us as Naturalists for the 2021 season, and hopefully beyond. Sara has a Bachelor of Animal Ecology and Bachelor of Science (Marine Science) from USC and Darcy a Bachelor of Science (Marine Biology and Zoology) from UWA. Darcy and Sara were the outstanding interviewees from an incredible group of people wishing to join our team this year. With these two additions, we have a most exciting team to help Captain Millie provide our customers with a whale watching experience highlighting the PWF difference.
We are also excited to have Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour join us for two upcoming Ultimate Whalewatches 12 August and 1 September! Mayor Seymour is an active mayor who is committed to conservation, and we are thrilled that he wants to be further involved as an ambassador for the whales. He is an author of several historical books on the Fraser Coast and his engaging speaking style brings to life the stories of our past and how they relate to our present and future. Mayor Seymour expresses his excitement for the upcoming VIP tours commenting, “As a community, the Fraser Coast is very proud of our relationship with whales and the research that PWF does in the waters around us. I am keen to raise the profile of whale watching and research – it should form a key part of Hervey Bay’s identity. There is still a lot to learn about these whales that visit us each year and it is great that this research is happening in our region. For decades now, Hervey Bay has been recognised (recognized) as the best place in Australia to see whales up close, in their natural habitat. It is a very magical experience and an unforgettable one.
Last season, we completed three years of data collection for our Swim-with-Whales Impact Study, in which we studied the impact of a new law in Queensland that allows passengers to be in the water alongside humpback whales. Our first Swim-with-Whales paper has been accepted and will be published soon! Stay tuned for our upcoming blog on this research project.
Also, senior members of our research department just presented the study to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission earlier last month, along with other research studies. Now that data collection for this project has ended, our research team in Australia is set to start a new chapter this year, operating a dedicated research vessel to study both body condition of mother/calf pairings and population abundance of both whales and dolphins in Hervey Bay.
We also have a new research team that will be working in Hervey Bay! We’d like to introduce you to Barry McGovern, Tine Haslam Nielsen, and Carla Patulny.
Barry is our Research Associate and will be leading the field work for this project. He recently completed his PhD research at the University of Queensland, where he studied social sounds produced by bottlenose dolphins in Moreton Bay. He previously worked as the Scottish marine strandings coordinator and on marine mammal monitoring projects in his home country of Ireland, he also ran the field operations for the Namibian Dolphin Project from 2015-2017.
Tine joined Pacific Whale Foundation Australia in 2020 and assisted with the final year of data collection for our swim-with-whales impact study. She has a Masters by Research degree from Aarhus University in Denmark and has previously worked with turtle conservation at Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and as a research assistant for the Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab (CEBEL) at Flinders University.
Carla joined Pacific Whale Foundation in 2021 and previously completed an internship at our Hawaii office. She previously worked as a team leader for ELI-Scientific in Nicaragua and completed her B.Sc. honours project on the social structure of Australian humpback dolphins in the Capricorn-Curtis Coast of Queensland.
With a new addition to our research team in Hawaiʻi, Elizabeth Beato, we have finally been able to fully digitise (digitize) our Australia photo-id catalogue and are currently working on uploading it to Happywhale for automated matching and quality-control. This is an important step toward being able to answer important questions about these whales and their population dynamics, like how is the calving rate changing over time due to climate change?
You can explore our whales for yourself at https://happywhale.com/org/494
There is also a separate page for PWFEAA passengers to upload their own photos: https://happywhale.com/org/868
We will also be continuing the use of our Whale and Dolphin Tracker specific to Hervey Bay aboard Ocean Defender on each ecotour we operate and promoting others to use it as well.
CONSERVATION and OUTREACH
Our conservation efforts this year will be enhanced with many more opportunities for outreach. We are thrilled with the reintroduction of the Hervey Bay Whale Festival and, if you’re in the area, come visit us there! Join us 7 Aug. for the Creating Waves festival event, at which PWF Chief Scientist Stephanie Stack will be presenting on her involvement with the International Whaling Commission. In addition, we have also donated video footage for the musical event Song to the Ocean Thursday 29 & Friday 30 July, will be participating in the Blessing of the Fleet boat parade Saturday 31 July with our Ocean Store open late and activity desk with kids’ programs running on the marina head, and will have an information tent at Seafront Oval for the Whale Parade & Family Day Sunday 1 Aug. where you can ask us all your marine environment questions!
We also hope to reintroduce harbor-side activities and educational opportunities in popular times at the marina and are working in collaboration with a number of other agencies on current threats to our marine life. PWF Conservation Advocate Shelby Serra is coordinating this work and has produced a number of position papers outlining our organisation’s (organization’s) stance to the stressors facing our whale population.
Our educational opportunities will also be greatly enhanced with a new Virtual Whale Watch program for schools AND the public. PWF Education Manager Robyn Ehrlich and her team have completed a fully interactive version of Virtual Whale Watch in Hawai’i with incredible success and school groups throughout the U.S. have participated. Our Australian version is currently in production but soon you will be able to go on a Hervey Bay whale watch from anywhere in the world!
We do have, once again, the opportunity to visit our local school groups with outreach and education and offer selected whale watch opportunities to school and university groups. This year we are working with Urangan State High School Marine Studies classes, with our researchers instructing students on data collection methods and the importance of community science. Students will spend time with our team both in classwork and on the water on Ocean Defender.