Whales in a Changing Climate

In the last century, humans have been accelerating the rate of climate change to dangerous and unsustainable levels. An increase in the strength and frequency of weather events, both on land and in the ocean, have threatened species survival. In addition, many natural processes in the ocean are being affected by the increase in sea surface temperatures. The humpback whale, due to its long migration patterns and reliance on cool, nutrient-rich water, is a good indicator of how climate change is affecting the ocean’s productivity and health.

This project aimed at establishing an understanding of the migration dynamics of the East Australia population of humpback whales in a rapidly changing environment. This will be achieved through strategic investigation of individuals using two known migratory stopovers, namely Hervey Bay and Moreton Bay in southeast Queensland. We will use a drone to take aerial photographs of individual whales that are, in turn, used to measure the length and width of each animal, a technique known as aerial photogrammetry. With these measurements, we can track changes in body mass within a season and over multiple seasons. Using these data, we can infer how environmental conditions in the feeding ground influence a whales’ decision to undertake their migration relative to their body condition. Further, microsatellite ageing of whales will provide detailed information regarding population demography (age and sex) in these locations, relative to the main migratory corridor.

We are also sharing data with the Whales and Climate Programme; the world’s first international research project aimed to establish an understanding of how changing ocean conditions influence the recovery of whale populations in the Southern Hemisphere. PWF, together with over 25 researchers from five countries gathering and contributing data to aid a team of researchers from six universities in building a model to predict whale distributions under future climate change scenarios and help to investigate changes influencing population status and conservation of humpback whales.

  • Project Partners

    Susan Bengston Nash, Griffith University 

    Lars Bejder, University of Hawai’i

    Olay Meynecke, Griffith University

  • Recent Publications

    2022: von Hammerstein, H., Setter, R. O., van Aswegen, M., Currie, J. J., and Stack, S. H. High-resolution projections of global sea surface temperatures reveal critical warming in humpback whale breeding grounds. Frontiers in Marine Science, 668. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2022.837772. Download PDF

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.