View all news

As humpback whales head home, mystery deepens for their southerly migration


Sharlene King
25 June 2018

With the southern migration of humpback whales along Australia's east coast now in full swing, new research has found the journey is an intriguing one.

The story starts a decade ago. After spending the winter in Queensland’s Hervey Bay birthing and feeding her calf, humpback whale matriarch Rama, with newborn alongside, joined the southern migration to feeding grounds in the Antarctic.

But in an unexpected move at the southern end of the Australian mainland, Rama and calf separated from the main group. Instead of passing by the eastern side of Tasmania to get to Antarctica, the pair went around the Victorian coast, across Bass Strait and passed the northwest corner of Tasmania before continuing in a south-westerly direction.

Why she would take her calf so far west of what is considered the primary feeding area for eastern Australian humpback whales has researchers Drs Trish and Wally Franklin from Southern Cross University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre intrigued.

The mysterious journey, observed a decade ago, is described in a paper published earlier this year by the Franklins and a team of researchers in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management (JCRM). That study and an inter-related

Franklin, W., Franklin, T., Cerchio, S., Rosenbaum, H., Jenner, C., Jenner, M., Gonçalves, L., Leaper, R., Brooks, L., and Clapham, P. 2017a. Photo-identification comparison of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) flukes from Antarctic Area IV with fluke catalogues from East Africa, Western Australia and Eastern Australia. J. CETACEAN RES. MANAGE  (17): 1-7.

Franklin, W., Franklin, T., Andrews-Goff, V., Paton, D.A., and Double, M. 2017b. Movement of two Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) satellite-radio tagged off Eden, NSW and matched by photo-identification with the Hervey Bay catalogue. J. CETACEAN RES. MANAGE (17): 29-33.