The Coffs Coast Advocate/Supplied

Coffs uni's whale tail matching system

WHALES are as mysterious as they are majestic, but a Coffs Coast university is hoping a new system for identifying humpback whales is the first step towards scientists fully understanding the king of the deep.

Southern Cross University is currently developing a 'Fluke Matcher' system, a computerised photographic catalogue of more than 2000 humpback whales, which will be used by scientists to study the behemoths.

The system matches humpback whale flukes (tails) in catalogues and provides benefits in tracking the movement and number of whales in feeding and breeding grounds.

Whale Research Centre director, Professor Peter Harrison, said photo-identification was an invaluable tool in determining humpback whale migration patterns as well as population structure and estimates.

“Through our research in photo-identification along the east coast, we have been able to provide estimates of the humpback population and determine the rate of increase of the whales,” Prof. Harrison said.

“This is vital for the ongoing protection and management of humpback whales, particularly those populations in the South Pacific that have not increased at the same rate as the Australian humpback populations and are now listed as endangered.”

Professor Harrison said the 'Fluke Matcher' system will be used as part of a new project into whale breeding habits.

“Despite many decades of research, we still don't have detailed scientific information about where our humpback whales go to breed and give birth in the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

“This is very important information for managing humpback whales and will add considerably to our understanding of this species.”

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