Southern Ocean whale expedition
Nick Gales – Southern Ocean Research Partnership
Nick Gales - leader, Australian Marine Mammal Centre
I’m Nick Gales. I head up the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, which is part of the Southern Ocean Ecosystems Program in the science branch at the Antarctic Division. I’ve been here for about nine years.
This summer, we’re starting off a very large program. It’s called the Southern Ocean Research Partnership and what it is – it’s through the International Whaling Commission. Virtually all of the countries involved in whale research in the Southern Ocean are getting together to work on one very large collaboration answering the important science questions in the Southern Ocean and this year, this summer, will be our first research voyage. We’re using the New Zealand research vessel, the Tangaroa, and conducting a whale research cruise to the south of New Zealand and Australia.
We’re focusing on looking at the movement of whales on their feeding grounds around the Antarctic pack ice and so we’ll be covering a large area of ice edge focusing on humpback whales and Antarctic minke whales and blue whales and deploying a large number of satellite tags which will give us a lot of animal movement data, collecting biopsy skin samples to look at their genetics and the way the populations are structured in the Southern Ocean, as well as sighting surveys and some use of acoustics listening to whales and looking at whale densities.
This is really focused at answering sort of the knowledge gaps. So, we’ve gone through very strategically and worked out what are the parts we don’t know very well. For some of the species that migrate north and breed in waters around Australia and near land masses, we know quite a lot of their winter activities during the breeding season. We know from other cruises in Antarctica where whales have been sighted as part of other larger research projects but actually we know very little about the way the animals behave down there as a focus and then how they link back to their breeding grounds to the north. Some of the animals that breed still out at sea, we don’t even know where those breeding locations are, so we’re really trying to address some of those questions this summer.
1 February 2010
Dr Nick Gales is a Marine Biologist and head of the Australian Marine Mammals Centre.
This summer he will lead a team of scientists on a voyage studying humpback, blue and Antarctic minke whales as part of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership.
It’s hoped the information gathered on the joint Australia-New Zealand expedition will shed some light on whale behavior and breeding habits in the Southern Ocean.