World Oceans' Day 2013

A pod of minkes, including one recently tagged with a green acoustic tag, in their feeding grounds in the Gerlache Strait off the Antarctic Peninsula
A pod of minkes, including one recently tagged with a green acoustic tag, in their feeding grounds in the Gerlache Strait off the Antarctic Peninsula. (Photo: Ari Friedlaender)
An Antarctic blue whale surfaces for air. A Patagonian toothfish on a measuring table.

The Southern Ocean is home to some incredible creatures, from the microscopic plankton that drift through the water column, to the largest animal on earth, the Antarctic blue whale. Australian Antarctic Division scientists spend a lot of time studying the physical properties of the Southern Ocean, as well as the animals that contribute to its ecosystems.

This year two major whale voyages took place in the waters off East Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. The results from these voyages will help scientists estimate the abundance and distribution of the species being studied and add to our understanding of the diving and feeding habits of different species and how they interact in an ecosystem.

In East Antarctica the Antarctic blue whale voyage used acoustic methods to track, and eventually sight, 80 blue whales. Scientists were able to photograph 57 of these whales for a photo-identification database, obtain skin samples from 23 for genetic analysis, and place satellite tags on two. You can read more about this in Australia’s successful Antarctic blue whale voyage and watch the associated video.

Off the Antarctic Peninsula, Australian and United States researchers deployed data-logging and satellite tags on 15 minke whales and deployed 26 tags on humpback whales. The data collected by the tags will provide the first insights into the diving and feeding difference between the two whale species. Check out the stunning photographs and video footage in the story Significant advances in non-lethal research on Antarctic minke whales.

The Australian Patagonian toothfish fishing industry received some good news recently too, with the announcement by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program that Australian-caught toothfish was a ‘best choice’ for consumers. Australia operates two Patagonian toothfish fisheries - the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery and the Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) Fishery. Both fisheries were accredited as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council last year, after years of scientific research and the adoption of conservation and management measures in the region, through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (see Subantarctic toothfish fishery certified sustainable).

The Seafood Watch program synthesises and analyses the most current ecological, fisheries and ecosystem science on a species, then evaluates this information against the program’s conservation ethic to arrive at a recommendation of ‘Best Choices’, ‘Good Alternatives’ or ‘Avoid’. A label of ‘best choices/green’ indicates the species is well managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. Read more in Patagonian toothfish now a ‘best choice’ for consumers.