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Humpbacks arriving early in Hervey Bay


16 August 2004
Humpback whales are arriving in Hervey Bay earlier and in greater numbers this year than in previous years, according to Oceania Project and Southern Cross University (SCU) whale researchers.

Trish and Wally Franklin, who are PhD students at SCU, run the Oceania Project, which has been studying the movements of whales in Hervey Bay for the last 15 years.

The project is run during August, September and October, with the research team heading out into Hervey Bay for a week at a time - photographing, recording and filming the humpback whales during their annual migration south to the Antarctic.

Trish Franklin and her team completed their first week at sea last Friday (August 13) and headed back to sea yesterday (Sunday, August 15). During the week they counted 32 pods and 77 individual humpback whales. The researchers also spotted the first mother and calf of the season earlier than expected.

“Normally we begin to expect the whales to start arriving around mid-July. This year we have had a steadier and stronger flow than we had expected,” Trish said. “We wouldn’t normally expect to see the mothers and calves until the end of August.”

The increase follows on from an increased number of whales spotted during SCU’s Cape Byron Whale Research Project. During that survey, conducted over 16 days in early July, a total of 855 whales were spotted heading north.

However, Trish said it was too early to say whether the early sightings in Hervey Bay indicated an overall increase in the numbers of migrating whales.

The researchers have also started the annual task of photographic identification of individual whales and collecting skin samples.

“Now that we have got the 10-year study behind us we are looking a bit more at the detail, such as the social behaviour of the whales. We will be looking in more depth at individuals and how they are associating with each other.”

Trish said there was an indication that the social behaviour of the humpback whales in Hervey Bay was different to the behaviour of whales in other areas.

“We want to gather more evidence to be able to test that.”

During this week the research team will be joined by the SCU Whale Research Centre director, Professor Peter Harrison and the chairman of the Australian Whale Conservation Society Paul Hodda. A marine conservation officer from the Samoan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Juney Ward, will also be on board for the week.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748 or Wally Franklin, The Oceania Project 0418 797326 (Hervey Bay).