Uni launches research on humpbacks
GLOBAL research on humpback whales has taken a huge leap forward, thanks to our very own Southern Cross University.
The university has just launched a powerful new software program that will enable researchers from around the world to collate humpback whale photographic catalogues and gain new understanding of the marine mammal's biology, ecology and behaviour.
‘Fluke Matcher' was developed by a team of researchers including Daniel Burns and Professor Peter Harrison, from Southern Cross University's Marine Ecology Research Centre, and Dr Eric Kniest, from the University of Newcastle, and was funded by the Australian Government.
Dan Burns said the whale research group was excited to be releasing this powerful new technology to the research community.
“Researchers from Australia and around the world have been collecting hundreds and sometimes thousands of fluke photographs to identify individual humpback whales over many years – we recognise whales by their tail fluke pigmentation and scarring patterns,” Mr Burns said.
“This is a valuable collection of data but because of the difficulty we have had comparing images within different catalogues the potential of this resource has not been fully realised.
Traditional methods have required substantial time, effort and expertise.
“With this computer-aided matching system our knowledge and understanding can grow significantly from here. At present different research groups tend to use different programs but we think Fluke Matcher will take photo-identification analysis to new levels and get everybody onto the same page, allowing different groups to collaborate and match their data more efficiently in a standardised way.”
Mr Burns said they had already received interest from researchers around Australia and all over the world.
While computer-based matching systems have been developed for other marine species, including some cetaceans, Fluke Matcher is the first successful computerised system for humpback whales.
“Photo-identification is a valuable tool that allows whale researchers to determine various aspects of humpback whale biology and ecology, including estimates of abundance, migration patterns and interchange rates, and biological parameters such as calving and mortality rates.