Greater whale species diversity off east coast



BRISBANE (AAP): Researchers surveying migrating humpback whales have found a number of different species of the great mammals rarely seen off Australia's east coast.

Southern Cross University's five-month land and sea survey is tracking the migration of Humpback whales off northern NSW coast and Hervey Bay in south-east Queensland.

One of Australia's most comprehensive whale studies, it aims to provide detailed information available on the size of the humpback population, migration patterns, genetics, birth rates and behaviour.

But Dan Burns, a PhD student with Southern Cross University's Whale Research Centre, said the survey, which had so far tracked the northern humpback migration, had found more sightings of other whales not normally sighted off the east coast.

"There's been quite a lot of different species seen in the last 10 to 12 weeks," he said.

"All of the species seen have been seen in this area before but they have been pretty few and far between and certainly not every year."

As well as humpbacks, researchers have also observed a pod of 60 to 70 false killer whales, along with dwarf minke whales, Bryde's whales and an unconfirmed sighting of a southern right whale.

Mr Burns, who has started surveying the humpback southern migration, said he could not confirm whether the diversity of whales was a continuing trend "but we seem to be getting a lot for some reason".

He said general trends have shown that humpback numbers are generally increasing with a current estimation of 6,500 migrating up and down the east coast.

The 10-week study of the northern migration which finished on August 13, observed 1,872 humpback whales, travelling in 1144 pods from the land and 658 humpbacks from the water.

But it was still too early to quantify where there was an increase in humpback numbers this year.

The survey also found the timing of the northern migration was later than what was considered normal for eastern Australia.

This also was consistent with reports from New Zealand, Western Australian and South Africa.

Mr Burns said the most likely reason for they delay were the conditions in the Antarctic.

"It could be the movement of prey," he said.

Mr Burns said the survey also hoped to confirm whether the white humpback whale Migaloo has fathered a calf as seen in news reports.

"So with any luck we'll see that calf at some stage and be able to get a skin sample and test it against the samples we got from Migaloo last year and see if he's been able to father a calf," he said.



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