Researchers highlight need for protection of whales

Published 7 June 2006

Southern Cross University researchers Trish and Wally Franklin have been named ambassadors for a Whales Down Under stamp series, issued by Australia Post.

The stamp series released yesterday coincides with World Oceans Day today (June 7) and a National Day of Action organised by Whale and Dolphin Watch Australia Inc. (WADWA), a peak body representing whale and dolphin watch operators.

Trish and Wally Franklin, both PhD candidates with the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, have been running The Oceania Project in Hervey Bay since 1989 and have developed one of the most extensive databases of individual humpback whales in Australia.

Each year during August and September, the couple runs week-long boat expeditions into Hervey Bay, photographing and studying the behaviour of humpback whales.

Their research forms part of the work being done by the SCU Whale Research Centre to collect comprehensive population and genetic data and information on behavioural patterns of humpbacks as they migrate up and down the east coast of Australia.

Wally said the Australian Post stamp series, which included a photo taken by Trish Franklin in Hervey Bay, reflected the overwhelming public support for the need to protect whales.

The International Whaling Commission meets in the West Indies next week, with Japan confident it has the support for its bid to resume commercial whaling.

Wally said the extensive scientific research into the humpback population, which travels along Australia's east coast, could be severely undermined by any return to whaling in the Antarctic.

"There were two million whales of all species killed in the Antarctic when commercial whalers were operating. Humpback whales were taken to the edge of extinction, down to about 150 whales out of a pre-whaling population of up to 30,000. The population, which is only back to about 7000, is still vulnerable," Wally said.

"If whaling is reintroduced, the whalers will not be able to distinguish between breeding and non-breeding stock with significant impacts on such a small population.

"One of the other potential impacts is any return to whaling could seriously impair the quality of the research of long-term projects such as ours."

Trish and Wally have collected 35,000 images of humpback whales during their research in Hervey Bay and have identified 3000 individual whales.

"We can recognise numerous whales on sight and have the life history of several hundred whales."

One of the whales is 'Floppy', named after his fin.

"We have watched him grow up and he's now 10-years-old. We have watched him come through early adolescence and last year he turned up with a mature female.

"From a conservationist's point of view the loss of a single humpback is not acceptable."

In addition to their research work, Trish and Wally have also been appointed to the board of WADWA. The pair has also been nominated as scientific advisors.

Wally said the group had organised today's National Day of Action, with the support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, to demonstrate to the Federal Government the overwhelming public support for the protection of whales.

A range of activities have been planned for centres along the coast including Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, Ballina and Port Macquarie.

"We find it incredibly encouraging to have so much energy in local communities in support of the protection of whales."

Information about Trish and Wally's Oceania Project is available at the website

Media contact: Brigid Veale SCU Communications Manager 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.