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Spotters keep track of humpback whales


Brigid Veale
26 June 2008
The annual Cape Byron Whale Research Project is well under way with record numbers of whales being spotted by Southern Cross University researchers and volunteers.

The annual survey from the Cape Byron Lighthouse is conducted by the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre as part of a series of ongoing research projects to monitor the migratory movements and behaviour of humpback whales.

Dan Burns, a PhD candidate and co-ordinator of this year’s project said the survey, which started last weekend, would run for 16 days.

A record 107 humpback whales were sighted on Wednesday, the most number of whales ever recorded in one day during the survey, which has been conducted off Cape Byron since 1995. the project is run in collaboration with the University of Newcastle, as well as Cape Byron Trust, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Marine Parks Authority and the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium.

Dan Burns, who has been studying the migration of the humpback whales for the past 10 years, said around 10,500 humpbacks were expected to migrate along Australia’s east coast this year.

“This population of whales, unlike others in the South Pacific, has shown strong signs of recovery in recent years and is now one of the best recovering populations of whales in the world, growing at about 10-11 per cent a year,” Mr Burns said.

“By the time the whales reach Byron Bay, the most easterly point of the mainland, the vast majority of the population passes close to the coast, most within about 10km.

“This makes Cape Byron one of the best places in the world to see and study humpback whales. There are few locations around the world where humpbacks can be observed ‘en route’ during their migration, as most humpback whale research (and whale watching) occurs on either feeding or breeding grounds at the end of the migration, especially in the northern hemisphere.

“It is important for us to continue to monitor the humpback population, which is still recovering and which could face renewed threats from Japan’s special permit whaling in the future.”

Southern Cross University’s Whale Research Centre contributed a number of reports to the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee ahead of this week’s meeting in Santiago, Chile.

Associate Professor Peter Harrison said the Whale Research Centre was dedicated to non-lethal long-term research that contributed to the future management of whales and dolphins in Australia and overseas.

“We have recently completed a review of the global status of whales, dolphins and porpoises which showed that there are very serious threats to many species,” Professor Harrison said.

Photo: Volunteers spotters Adrian Oosterman, with binoculars, and Merv Whicker at the Cape Byron Lighthouse.