$1.6 million for marine mammal research

An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flying over the ocean
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles such as this ScanEagle will be used to survey dugongs from the air (Photo: Insitu Pacific)
A female dugong and calf in Queensland watersA humpback whale breachingScientists approach a blue whale in a small boat

Scientists will take to the skies and oceans over the next two years to observe, track, tag, photograph and model some of the 57 species of marine mammals that live, breed and migrate in Australia’s waters.

Projects funded under a $1.6 million research grants scheme, announced in April, include dugong surveys using state-of-the art Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, satellite tagging of blue whales, and development of a system to simulate the hearing abilities of endangered marine fauna, which will help to determine safe limits of underwater noise pollution.

In total the 2013-14 round of the Australian Marine Mammal Centre (AMMC) Grants Scheme will support 21 high calibre, two-year research projects, focused on the conservation management of threatened Australian and regional marine mammal species and their populations.

The scheme, administered by the Department of the Environment’s Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart, supports research using non-lethal techniques to improve our understanding of the impact of human activities on marine mammals and provide information on their population structure, distribution and abundance, and the threats they face.

The projects will provide invaluable information and advice to underpin Australia’s marine mammal conservation and policy initiatives. Recipients include many of Australia’s internationally recognised marine mammal scientists.

Among the grants are:

  • $98 000 for scientists at Macquarie University to develop aerial survey methods to monitor southern right whale populations in south-east Australia.
  • $100 000 for scientists at James Cook University to provide accurate estimates of dugong abundance and distribution, to inform dugong management, especially the management of Indigenous hunting.
  • $89 000 for researchers at the University of Queensland to assess the recovery of the East Australian humpback population that was hunted to near extinction in the early 1960s.
  • $116 000 for the South Australian Research and Development Institute to conduct a state-wide survey of Australian sea lion populations, as part of the animals’ Recovery Plan.

Since its inception in 2008, the AMMC Grants Scheme has funded 83 marine mammal research projects that have made substantial contributions to marine mammal conservation both nationally and internationally.

See Australian Antarctic Magazine 19: 12-15, 2010; AAM 13: 24-26, 2007; and AAM 12: 29-31, 2007 for features on some of these projects.

Elanor Bell and Renata Robertson
Australian Marine Mammal Centre