Our research in Australia began in Hervey Bay in 1984 when Pacific Whale Foundation’s Founder, Greg Kaufman, visited the area as part of a documentary film project. Greg and his team realized the area was a critical resting place for humpback whale mothers and calves heading back to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic. They resolved then and there to learn more about this population of majestic animals.
We have been doing humpback whale research in Hervey Bay ever since.
Our initial work involved photo-identification of humpback whale flukes (or tails), as well as collecting humpback whale song recordings. These initial recordings were some of the first that were compared to Hawaii’s whales in an effort to understand the global significance of whale song.
Our researchers were also among the first to study Migaloo, Australia’s famous albino humpback whale. We’ve published articles detailing his behaviours and movements along the East Australia migratory route, and we’ve catalogued his sightings over the years.
The focus of our research has always been Hervey Bay, but we’ve also studied humpback whale movement and connectivity among various areas of East Australia, including Eden, New South Wales and the Whitsundays/Cairns/Port Douglas region. In addition, we’ve reported on a humpback whale moving between the Pacific Ocean (east Australia) and the Indian Ocean (west Australia); the first and only example of inter-ocean humpback whale movement between these two populations, which are otherwise thought to be separate.
A recent Hervey Bay project involved modelling the distribution of mother-calf pairs based on 12 years of data. We determined that there is spatial and temporal segregation of pods in this area based on pod composition. Pods without a calf present were found further from shore and earlier in the season, while pods with a calf present were found later in the season and showed a preference for nearshore waters off Fraser Island.
SWIM-WITH-WHALES IMPACT STUDY
ASSESSING THE IMPACTS OF SWIM-WITH-WHALES TOURISM
In July 2018, we launched a Swim-With-Whales Impact Study to collect scientific data on the impact of immersive (in-water) activities on humpback whales in Hervey Bay. On these research expeditions, passengers have an opportunity to be in the water alongside these magnificent mammals while contributing to important research with significant implications for the future of humpback whales in Hervey Bay.
Our researchers onboard also use the Ultimate Whalewatch ecotours as ‘platforms of opportunity’ to collect data for ongoing research projects on humpback whale distribution and life history. We offer this classic wildlife watching cruise as a way to share our research and our passion for whales and their ocean home.
Every whalewatch is led by a certified Marine Naturalist, all of whom have degrees in marine biology or related sciences. They provide expert commentary on whale physiology, ecology, reproduction, and other topics, relating to ocean wildlife and ecosystems. They also share helpful insights into the amazing whale behaviours you’ll experience during your whalewatch.
For more information or to book your Ultimate Whalewatch online, click here.
LIFE HISTORY STUDY USING PHOTO-IDENTIFICATION
Pacific Whale Foundation scientists established the first and now longest-running humpback whale photo-identification project in the South Pacific. Today, our Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale Catalogue is the largest curated database of photo-identified humpback whales in East Australia, greatly adding to scientific understanding of the population’s ecology and life history traits.
Every whale has its own unique features, including the overall shape of the flukes (or tail), trailing edges, acquired scars, and natural pigmentation. These characteristics can be identified in photos and compared with other sightings to match and track individual whales. Photo-identification serves as a non-invasive way to gather information on the life histories of whales, including approximate age and migratory movements.
Our researchers have collected detailed life histories of over 6,000 whales that visit Hervey Bay between July to October. You can contribute to our research as a citizen-scientist by donating your humpback whale fluke photos. If your photo is included in our catalogue, you’ll be notified of any re-sightings that occur.
For more information on photo donations, click here.
BE WHALE AWARE
Between July and October, thousands of humpback whales can be found in the waters of Hervey Bay. While we all enjoy the incredible experience of watching humpback whales living wild in their natural habitat, it’s easy to forget the impact that our presence can have. Approaching whales too close or too fast may disrupt important socializing behaviors and may cause unnecessary stress to the animals in the short term. Continued close approaches and harassment can also have long-term effects such as the population moving to different resting areas or decreased reproduction.
Pacific Whale Foundation has developed Be Whale Aware guidelines to help whalewatch operators, boaters, and other ocean users to navigate safely when in the vicinity of humpback whales. We recommend a safe distance of 100 metres for viewing animals, which aligns with the legal approach distance. We also recommend that vessels limit their time spent near whale pods with calves to 30 minutes. These best practices, which have been adopted by the Queensland government, will contribute to the growth of sustainable marine ecotourism in Hervey Bay.
To view or download the Be Whale Aware guidelines for Australia, please click here.
WHALE & DOLPHIN TRACKER
Our Whale & Dolphin Tracker app is the latest iteration of a long-term citizen-science program for monitoring and collecting data on marine wildlife. With this free app available to the public, you can now log your humpback whale sightings in real time and upload photos from your mobile device. Your contributions will aid our researchers in their studies and contribute to informed management of the East Australia population of humpback whales.
The application also populates a Live Whale & Dolphin Sightings Map of Hervey Bay that shows all sightings recorded within the last seven days.
Click here to view This Week’s Sightings in Hervey Bay
Click below to download the app from the App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android)