Monitoring Humpback Whales in the South Pacific

Research activities conducted under research permits and following animal ethics approval. The drone operator holds a remote pilot (RePL) license certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The goal of this study is to maintain long-term continuous monitoring of humpback whales in East Australia (breeding stock E-1) while also documenting the presence and use of this area by other cetaceans. From these data we provide science-based recommendations to resource  managers and stakeholders to contribute to cetacean management strategies.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known as a cosmopolitan species; their feeding or breeding grounds are in every ocean on the planet, and they travel thousands of  kilometers between them. As humpback whales inhabit a variety of ocean ecosystems, long term monitoring of their populations helps researchers to better understand changes over time  within the ocean as it relates to this species.

The East Australian humpback whales spend approximately half their year feeding in Antarctic waters. The nutrient-rich Southern Ocean provides an abundance of krill which allows the whales to build up enough energy reserves to sustain them throughout their annual migration. This includes pregnant females who then give birth and nurse their calves during their southern migration.

Studying the complex lives of the East Australian humpback whales sheds light not only on the health of the animal, but on its habitat and population status. It also allows us to better inform those tasked with management of the population. We collect a wide range of data including photo-identification, behavioural observations, and drone measurements. This gives us a broad understanding of the population and allows us to highlight any potential issues that may impact the status of the population.

  • Project Partners

    Susan Bengston Nash, Griffith University
    Ted Cheeseman, Southern Cross University and Happywhale
    Daniele Cagnazzi, Southern Cross University
    Olaf Meynecke, Griffith University

  • Recent Publications

    2019: Stack, S.H., Currie, J.J., McCordic, J.A., Machernis, A.F. & Olson, G.L. Distribution patterns  of east Australia humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hervey Bay, Queensland: a  historical perspective. Australian Mammalogy

    2014: Constantine, R, Steel, D, Allen, J, Anderson, M, Andrews, O, Baker, CS, Beeman, P, Burns,  D, Charrassin, J-B, Childerhouse, S, Double, M, Ensor, P, Franklin, T, Franklin, W, Gales, N,  Garrigue, C, Gibbs, N, Harrison, P, Hauser, N, Hutsel, A, Jenner, C, Jenner, M-N, Kaufman, G,  Macie, A, Mattila, D, Olavarria, C, Oosterman, A, Paton, D, Poole, M, Robbins, J, Schmitt, N,  Stevick, P, Tagarino, A, Thompson, K, and Ward, J. Remote Antarctic feeding ground important  for east Australian humpback whales. Marine Biology 161: 1087-1093.

    2013: Rankin, R.W., Maldini, D. and Kaufman, G. Bayesian estimate of Australian humpback  whale calving interval under sparse resighting rates: 1987 – 2009. Journal of Cetacean Research  Management 13(2): 109-12.

    *For a full list of our research publications, click here:


Hawaii Visitor Update

Aloha, We Are Open!  Our PacWhale Eco-Adventures are open for booking as we welcome visitors back to Maui.  Quarantine restrictions were lifted on Oct. 15th for those following the state’s pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements.