Environment Minister Peter Garrett today invited applications for a share in $1.5 million in grant funding for priority marine mammal research — a key part of the Government’s commitment to creating the largest international whale research program in the world.

Mr Garrett said the funding available through the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, located at Hobart’s Australian Antarctic Division, would be used for projects that would help answer important questions about Southern Ocean whales.

“The Australian Government is resolutely opposed to commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling in all its forms. We do not believe that you need to kill a whale to study it, however we also know that real, non-lethal scientific research can tell us so much more about whales and other cetaceans and the threats they face, including from climate change.

“That is why, in addition to pursuing a robust reform agenda for the International Whaling Commission, we have dedicated around $32 million over the next five years to work with the other nations of the Commission on a non-lethal research partnership that will demonstrate once and for all that we can have science without needing to kill a single whale.

“The marine mammal research grants currently available will be targeted to address the most pressing marine mammal conservation needs not just in whales but also scientific questions relating to dolphins, seals, sea lions and dugongs,” Mr Garrett said.

As well as almost doubling the value of grants that had previously been available, the Minister said that in this 2009 funding round, longer term projects up to three years duration would be considered rather than the previous one year time frame.

Applications are invited for research proposals that support Australia’s national and international whale and marine mammal priorities, including:

  • marine mammal population structure, distribution and abundance,
  • quantifying threats to marine mammal populations,
  • developing risk management and mitigation tools for marine mammal and human interaction, and
  • developing new non-lethal research techniques such as molecular bio-logging and remote sensing.

In 2007/2008, 11 marine mammal projects were funded through the Australian Marine Mammals Centre.

These included projects to estimate the abundance of migrating humpback whales; develop a new computerised fluke matching database for humpback whales photographed off the east coast of Australia; decrease marine mammal bycatch in fisheries; increase the accuracy of dugong population estimates; and investigate the winter foraging ecology of the southern elephant seal, the Weddell seal and the Antarctic fur seal.