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Researchers win funding for whale research and acid drainage


Brigid Veale
23 June 2005
Southern Cross University researchers will develop the first non-invasive and non-lethal method of determining the age of humpback whales, following the announcement of an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.

Southern Cross University has received two ARC Linkage grants, totalling $700,000, in the latest round of funding. The humpback whale project, led by Pro Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Peter Baverstock and Associate Professor Peter Harrison, will receive $288,000. Another project, led by Dr Malcolm Clark, has received close to $412,000 to investigate the use of Bauxsol™ based grouts and shotcretes for the control of acid rock drainage.

Associate Professor Peter Harrison, who is the director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, said the humpback whale project would use cutting-edge DNA research techniques to determine the age of whales.

"This is globally significant research that will provide essential information for managing populations of endangered or vulnerable whale species. It will provide a model for determining the age structure of humpback whale populations in Australia and overseas using innovative non-lethal ageing techniques," Professor Harrison said.

He said previous information on the age of whales had been gathered by determining the numbers of layers in the wax plugs in the ear canals, extracted from whale carcasses.

"Japanese whalers are saying they need to kill whales in order to age them. Once the age of whales can be determined using non-lethal skin sampling, there will be no excuse for lethal sampling by pro-whaling nations."

The whale research is also funded by the International fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), one of the world's leading animal welfare organisations, and involves collaboration with leading whale researchers including Associate Professor Scott Baker from the University of Auckland, and Dr David Lavigne from IFAW.

The other ARC Linkage Grant has been awarded to Dr Malcolm Clark, from Southern Cross University, in conjunction with Professor David McConchie, Virotec International and Professor Muhammed Basheer, from Queen's University Belfast.

Dr Clark said the project would investigate the use of Bauxsol based grouts and shotcretes for the control of acid rock drainage, a major environmental problem in mine sites.

"The application is really for the treatment of waste rock dumps, but it also has the potential to be used in some acid sulphate soils," Dr Clark said.

"It's a way of getting in and treating these huge rock piles, without the cost of pulling them apart. We are looking at a material we can inject into these dumps to stabilise them from erosion and shut down the acid production and heavy metal release."

Dr Clark said some of the research would be carried out at the Queen's University in Belfast, which has a concrete testing facility to simulate the long-term effectiveness of the products.