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Researchers report record numbers in annual whale count


Brigid Veale
11 July 2008
A total of 1183 humpback whales were counted during Southern Cross University’s annual Cape Byron Whale Research Project, which ended on July 6.

The 16-day survey was conducted by researchers from the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre and a crew of 25 volunteers. The survey, which has been conducted off Cape Byron since 1995, is run in collaboration with the University of Newcastle, Cape Byron Trust, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Marine Parks Authority and the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium.

Project co-ordinator and PhD student Dan Burns said the number of whales counted as they passed Cape Byron on their journey north to the winter breeding grounds was well up on previous years.

“Our previous record for the most whales in a day before this year was 102. We broke that four times this year. Our new record is 124 whales counted in one day,” Mr Burns said.

“This year we also saw a southern right whale, a minke whale and seven humpback whales with calves.

“We know that the humpback whale population is recovering steadily and this count confirms that the growth is continuing. However we need to remember the numbers of whales that we see migrating along the East Coast are still well below the pre-whaling numbers.”

Associate Professor Peter Harrison, director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, said this project was one of a series of ongoing research projects to monitor the migratory movements and behaviour of humpback whales.

“These projects are good examples of the long-term and benign research that the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre conducts to provide important scientific data on Australian humpback whales and their slow progress of recovery from whaling last century,” Professor Harrison said.

“This work underpins the effective management of whales and dolphins in Australian waters.”

Another research project, conducted by PhD students Trish and Wally Franklin, will get under way in Hervey Bay in August. Through this project, which has been operating for more than 20 years, Trish has collected photo-identification information on 3000 individual humpback whales.

The study is conducted each year in August, September and October and monitors the whales as they head into Hervey Bay on their way south from their winter breeding grounds off the coast of northern Australia.

Photo: A humpback whale shows its fluke as it passes Cape Byron on its journey north. Photo by Dan Burns, Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre (high resolution image available on request).