The joint Australian-New Zealand Antarctic Whale Expedition is on track collecting information on several whale species in the Southern Ocean.
Expedition Leader, Dr Nick Gales, of the Australian Antarctic Division says that despite sometimes tricky weather conditions the team has been able to carry out a range of research.
“So far, nine species of cetaceans have been sighted — among them, humpback, Antarctic minke, sei, sperm, fin, killer, southern bottlenose whales and hourglass dolphins,” Dr Gales said.
“We are concentrating mainly on humpback and Antarctic minke whales for our research and to date have been able to deploy around twenty satellite tags on humpback whales.
“This is by far the most ambitious scientific objective of the voyage as it requires small-boat operations very close to surfacing whales.
“The tags send back important information on feeding behaviour and, later, as winter begins track the whales from the Southern Ocean to breeding grounds.”
Nearly 30 biopsies and photo identification of humpback whales have also been collected.
These samples will be important for improving understanding of linkages between these southern feeding grounds and the breeding grounds of the south west Pacific and eastern Australia.
Dr Gales said the waters around the Balleny Islands in the Ross Sea region where the research is being done are alive with the sounds of humpbacks and blue whales.
“Sonobuoys, which detect whale vocalisations and transmit them back to the ship, have successfully recorded humpback whales, along with sperm, blue and fin whales.
“Acoustic techniques are particularly useful in addressing questions on broad whale population levels.”
The expedition, aboard the New Zealand research vessel Tangaroa is around half way through its voyage after departing Wellington on 2 February.
It is scheduled to return to Wellington in mid-March.
See raw footage of the whale expedition team in action — hear from Dr Nick Gales, Voyage Leader Anthony Hull and whale researcher Dr Mike Double below.
Minister Garrett launches whale research expedition
- Whale expedition heads south
- Video of Dr Nick Gales explaining the aims of the voyage.