News

No fluke in the science of whale migration

Whales continue to be individually identified on their migration along the coast using the unique detail in their flukes.
Whales continue to be individually identified on their migration along the coast using the unique detail in their flukes.

HUNDREDS of individual humpback whales travelling along Australia's east coast have been identified using photographs of whale flukes captured mostly by citizen scientists, say Southern Cross University marine researchers.

The results are the first released from the East Coast Whale Watch Catalogue project run by Peta Beeman, a Southern Cross University Masters student, and Professor Peter Harrison, director of the University's Marine Ecology Research Centre.

"So far in this study, more than 800 whales have been identified with photos - and more than 450 of those were contributed by citizen scientists - from the Whitsunday Islands to Southern Tasmania," Peta said.

Twelve whales were seen on more than one occasion, while another three were photographed at different points along the migration path in the one season.

"One example of an interesting within-season resight was one whale photographed from a whale watch boat as it travelled south through Byron Bay. Three days later it was photographed again off Ballina, only 30 kilometres away."

The explanation for its very slow travel speed may be found in a recent paper by Dr Daniel Burns and colleagues from the Marine Ecology Research Centre, where it is thought that some southbound whales (probably males), circle back north at different points as they search for increased mating opportunities."

Dr Daniel Burns said the fluke-matching work was significant to better understand whale behaviour.

"We found some adult males travelling from pod to pod and milling around in the Byron and Ballina area for sometimes days at a time. But we need more evidence to determine how this fits into the broader migration picture. Peta's work is certainly helping to build on that," Dr Burns said.

The East Coast Whale Watch Catalogue project has been running since 2008 and aims to engage locals, tourists and tourism operators in the collection of whale fluke photographs. In the past few years it has been supported by an Inspiring Australia research grant that aims to foster public participation in science research.

Peta highlighted the importance of public support for marine research.

"Many people are going out on boats to watch the whales and are taking scientifically useful photos of the tail flukes. The aim of this project is to collate and analyse that data. These 'citizen scientists' are collecting data at many points along the whale migration path which is providing valuable information about travel speeds and migration patterns that can be incorporated into a long-term dataset."

Peta analyses the unique pigmentation pattern on the ventral surface (underside) of the tail fluke that enables individual whales to be identified (just like a fingerprint) using the Fluke Matcher software developed by researchers from the University's Marine Ecology Research Centre and the University of Newcastle.

"The ongoing increase in the east coast humpback whale population is a great outcome from protecting these whales from commercial whaling," Prof. Peter Harrison said.

"Now this population has reached about 20,000 whales it's a perfect opportunity for more people to see and photograph these whales, and images submitted to the website can help our research to better understand the ecology of these spectacular whales so we can continue to improve management in future."

To contribute photos go to www.eastcoastwhales.com.au

Topics:  migration, southern cross university



Time is running out to enter Running Festival

HAVE YOU ENTERED?: There are only three days to go until this year's Bendigo Bank Coffs Harbour Running Festival gets under way.

Running Festival entries after 5pm on Friday will incur a late fee

Record spend to stop high-risk crims re-offending

Millions of dollars in funding to stop high-risk crims

Two women struck by car on Pacific Hwy

Two elderly women have been transported to Coffs Harbour Base Hospital after being struck by a car on the Pacific Hwy this afternoon.

TWO women have been transported to Coffs Harbour Base Hospital

Local Partners

Love is in the air on The Bachelor, but not for Kiki

The Bachelor Australia contestant Kirralee 'Kiki' Morris.

BACHELORETTE bows out gracefully as show enters its final weeks.

A $65,000 bathroom? The Block's incredible budget blow-outs

The Block contestants Julia and Sasha spent a whopping $65,000 on their first renovated room.

TEAMS deliver most expensive en-suites in reno show's history.

Gympie Muster couch dumps down, but still a problem

TIPPING POINT: After an appalling year of couches being dumped at the end of the last Muster, festival organisers have taken litterbugs to task

EFFORTS to combat post-Muster couch dumping are proving effective

Cryptic crosswords: Top clues to solving them

Your guide to solving the cryptic crosswords in your local paper

MOVIE REVIEW: Ben-Hur isn't likely to become a new classic

Toby Kebbell plays Messala Severus and Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur in a scene from Ben-Hur.

ANYTHING less than grand in a remake of Ben-Hur won't do.

How high? Twin 20-storey high-rises plan for "over 50s"

A development application has been lodged with the Fraser Coast Regional Council to build two skyscrapers in Hervey Bay.

Developer says Bay needs to move with the times.

Australia's most expensive balcony and it hasn't been built

Viridian Noosa.

How Noosa millionares' squabble could affect body corporates

Receivers move in on Springfield's 'Tower of Power'

The 10-storey tower at Springfield is up for sale with interest high in the iconic structure.

Interest high in iconic 10-storey office building

REVEALED: Pat Rafter's $18m Coast house on the market

Check out the photos of the Coast's most expensive property for sale

The "correction we had to have" in Gladstone's rentals

UPWARD MARCH: The rental vacancy rate in Gladstone has improved for the first time in more than a year, providing a confidence boost in the market.

Vacancy rates improve with signs that things are getting betterF

ISLAND FOR SALE: Cheap Fraser Coast island drops price again

Suna Island in the Great Sandy Strait will be auctioned by Ray White Hervey Bay on Saturday morning.

This is the cheapest island you will find for sale in Australia