The world’s largest, non-lethal whale research expedition has returned from Antarctic waters with a range of new information that will help inform future marine mammal conservation.

Environment Protection Minister Peter Garrett said that the joint Australia-New Zealand Antarctic Whale Expedition — with scientists from Australia, New Zealand and France — had achieved significant milestones during the six-week voyage in the Southern Ocean aboard the New Zealand National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) vessel R.V. Tangaroa.

“The research undertaken on this expedition indicates that there are effective and achievable ways to collect a whole range of important whale data without the need to kill these mammals,” Mr Garrett said.

Expedition science leader, the Australian Antarctic Division’s Dr Nick Gales, who heads the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, said a great deal of data was collected during the voyage.

“We have collected more than 60 biopsy samples, many photo-identifications of humpback whales and acoustics data. Additionally, 30 satellite tags were deployed on humpback whales. We are hoping these will provide movement data on the feeding grounds and migration routes back to the tropical breeding areas in winter.

"We now have a lot of new information to be processed and will spend the next couple of months analysing it to get a clearer picture on a range of important conservation science issues such as whale movement and feeding behaviour, defining migratory routes, and mixing patterns between different breeding populations," Dr Gales said.

Mr Garrett said that research results from the voyage would be presented to the International Whaling Commission meeting in June in Morocco.

The Antarctic Whale Expedition is the first major project under the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, an Australian Government initiative established in 2009.

“We have invested more than $14 million AUD in the Partnership which now has 13 member countries.

“The Southern Ocean Research Partnership is part of the larger government allocation of $32 million AUD, over six years, of national and international non-lethal cetacean research.

“The plan developed under the Partnership has been endorsed as part of the scientific work program of the International Whaling Commission,” Mr Garrett said.