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Study identifies migratory movements of humpback whales


Brigid Veale
6 June 2008
New research which investigates the migratory movements of humpback whales between Antarctica, the east coast of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific and the west coast of Australia, has been presented to the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee this week.

Three reports have been prepared by Southern Cross University’s Whale Research Centre using photo-identification catalogues of humpbacks from Hervey Bay, Ballina, New Zealand, Western Australia and Antarctica.

The research involved collaboration with scientists from the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, The Centre for Whale Research, Western Australia, the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries, The International Fund for Animal Welfare and Greenpeace International.

Wally Franklin, a PhD student with the Centre and co-director of The Oceania Project, said the reports confirmed the relationship between the Australian humpback whales that migrate up and down the east coast and whales sighted near New Zealand and the Balleny Islands feeding area in Antarctica.

“The long-term photo-identification undertaken in eastern Australia by scientists at Southern Cross University’s Whale Research Centre has made it possible to investigate the destinations of humpback whales using the New Zealand migratory corridor and seen feeding in the Balleny Islands,” Mr Franklin said.

“What’s important about the finding is that it suggests the recovery of the eastern Australian humpbacks might be a factor in the recovery of the Pacific populations.”

Mr Franklin said while the population of humpbacks which migrated each year along the east coast of Australia was steadily increasing, that was not the case for smaller populations in the Pacific.

“There is a likelihood that the key to recovery of the humpbacks in the Pacific may be related to continued recovery of the eastern Australian populations,” he said.

“But, what we know of how the humpback whales mix in Antarctica is very limited and we need to have more data. We would like to see the IWC or the Federal Government provide more funding for photo-identification of humpback whales in Antarctica.

“We also need to continue the fight against whaling in the Antarctic which is likely to have a real impact on the rates of recovery.”

Mr Franklin and his partner Trish Franklin, also a PhD student with the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, will be continuing their research into the behaviour of humpbacks as the whales migrate south from their winter breeding grounds through Hervey Bay during August, September and October.

The couple runs The Oceania Project, which provides the opportunity for researchers, students and interested members of the community to take part in research expeditions on board their vessel ‘Moon Dancer’.

Through this project, which has been operating for more than 20 years, Trish has collected photo-identification information on 3000 individual humpback whales

“All these whales are known individually. People who want to get involved can help us by participating the internship program,” Mr Franklin said.

The Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre will also be conducting the annual Cape Byron Whale Survey in July. Information is available from the SCU website or

Photo: Nala, a female humpback, has been sighted regularly in Hervey Bay since 1992 and was also photographed near the Balleny Islands in February 1997.