Dr Virginia Andrews-Goff — marine mammal scientist

Scientists of the Antarctic: Dr Virginia Andrews-Goff

Video transcript

I think for me the career highlight would be working alongside Antarctic Blue Whales. I’m a fairly small human and they’re a fairly massive animal and it was just mind blowing being alongside this massive wall of blue. Essentially you were dwarfed, it is bewildering.

I work on the movement of whales and I came to the Antarctic Division through my speciality in satellite tagging.

We work alongside the whales in a small boat. So the boat’s around six metres long and the tagger stands in the bow sprit. The tagger has a pneumatic rifle, a line thrower essentially, with a tag attached. If you pull up alongside a whale, and you’re within the right distance, and you know you can deploy the tag safely on the whale, then the tag gets blasted out of the air gun and implants in the whale.

In the Southern Ocean it can be really difficult and the driver plays a critical role. And often you’re working within a pod of whales. So you’ve got to be really mindful of not getting between mums and calves, and not getting between individuals.

Studying movement of an animal is really important because it gives you an insight into some really critical information about the habitat that the whale occupies. I can define foraging areas and look at what’s important about that area.

The flow on effects of knowing how whales target their prey, and how we can feed that information up the line to policy makers, is really huge.

[end transcript]

Dr Virginia Andrews-Goff: BSc (Hons), PhD

Research interests

I am a marine mammal research scientist at the Australian Marine Mammal Centre of the Australian Antarctic Division. I undertake research and provide scientific and technical advice to conserve and manage whales. I focus on the movement of whales by analysing data transmitted by satellite tags. I use these movements to characterise important habitat and to reveal how whales move through and use their environment. This information is critical to the data-driven management and conservation of whales, especially as populations continue to recover post-whaling, and increasingly face new threats such as vessel strike, fishery entanglement and climate-mediated variability in the marine environment.

I have spent much time in Antarctica working at sea and on the continent. I have had the privilege to work on Antarctic flying birds and penguins, I have satellite tagged many Weddell seals, spent much time as a cetacean visual observer, and I am the only person to have ever attached a satellite tag to an Antarctic blue whale. My PhD, and the research positions that followed, allowed me to specialise in remote field work and to transfer my seal and seabird based analysis of satellite telemetry data to whales. My focus now is on two major research projects within the Antarctic program on Antarctic blue whales and other Antarctic baleen whales. Recently, this research has taken on a strong and exciting multidisciplinary angle as my team has started to look at predator-prey interactions by characterising krill swarms and determining whether krill swarm shape affects whale distribution and behaviour.

Current projects

International/national collaborations

  • International Whaling Commission — Southern Ocean Research Partnership projects
  • Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia
  • Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (UTAS), Tasmania
  • Flinders University, South Australia
  • University Of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Marine Mammal Laboratory — Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, USA
  • Provincetown Centre for Coastal Studies, USA

Key outcome areas

  • International Whaling Commission (IWC)
  • Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)
  • Australian State and Commonwealth government stakeholders

Related links


Bestley S, Andrews-Goff V, van Wijk E, Rintoul SR, Double MC and How J (accepted). New insights into prime Southern Ocean forage grounds for thriving Western Australian humpback whales. Scientific Reports.

Riekkola L, Andrews-Goff V, Friedlaender A, Constantine R and Zerbini A (2019). Environmental drivers of humpback whale foraging behaviour in the remote Southern Ocean. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 517, 1–12.

Andrews-Goff V, Bestley S, Gales N, Laverick S, Paton D, Polanowski A, Schmitt N and Double M (2018). Humpback whale migrations to Antarctic summer foraging grounds through the southwest Pacific Ocean. Scientific Reports 8(1): 12333.

See more of Dr Andrews-Goff’s publications on ResearchGate.