Whale and Dolphin Research

Key Contact

Professor Peter Harrison
t: +61 2 6620 3774
f: +61 2 6620 2669
e: peter.harrison@scu.edu.au

The Southern Cross University Whale Research Group (SCUWRG) is a cetacean research centre that was established in 2001 at Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, on the east coast of Australia.

The main objective of the SCUWRG is to support research on whale and dolphin populations in the Southern Hemisphere and through this research to contribute to their conservation. Current Australian and international projects being coordinated by researchers from the SCUWRG include studies of humpback whales in Hervey Bay and Byron Bay, as well as research on inshore dolphin populations in locations ranging from the northern NSW to the Capricorn Coast of Central Queensland. This research is enhancing our understanding of these remarkable creatures, to develop effective management strategies for their long-term protection, and to promote education about whales, dolphins and other cetaceans. We use a collaborative team approach for research involving the expertise of leading researchers from Australia and overseas, trained in marine mammal science, genetics, surveying, and acoustics. These capabilities are greatly enhanced by close collaborative links with leading international marine mammal researchers and organisations such as the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium (SPWRC), The Oceania Project and the Southern Ocean Research Partnership (SORP).

One of the key research projects undertaken by the SCUWRG is the Humpback Whale Telomere Ageing Research Project, which aims to test the use of molecular techniques to age whales. This project was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and highlights our commitment to using and developing non-lethal methods to study whales and dolphins.

The SCUWRG has also developed cutting-edge technology for cetacean research, including the development of a revolutionary computerised humpback whale fluke matching program 'Fluke Matcher', and assisting with the ongoing development of the whale tracking software Cyclopes, both in collaboration with Dr Eric Kniest (University of Newcastle).

The Cape Byron Whale Research Project, and the Oceania Project (Trish and Wally Franklin), involve long-term research on humpback whales and are conducted at Cape Byron, in northern NSW, and in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. These innovative programs are excellent examples of how we are bringing together both leading scientific experts and cutting-edge technology, to showcase humpback whale research work to the thousands of national and international visitors who venture to the Cape Byron Lighthouse and Hervey Bay regions each year. In addition, we have initiated ongoing collaborative cetacean research projects in northern NSW coastal habitats and in the Central Great Barrier Reef, and in the South Pacific.

Our research team were funded to analyse the global status of whales, dolphins and porpoises for a research project funded by the Australian Government. Our report on the 'Global Status of Cetaceans' highlighted the fact that 14 cetacean species are listed as Threatened by the IUCN, and major threats to cetaceans include ongoing whaling and hunting, by-catch in nets and other fishing gear, habitat loss, population fragmentation, disease, pollution and climate change. This report supported the Australian Government's case against continued whaling at recent International Whaling Commission meetings.