The research team leaving the harbour in Augusta. Photo Credit: Victor Alvarez
Welcome! This is the first of seven posts in our blog series: “Citizen science and social media impact of ecological research: Study on southern right whales in South West Australia“. In the blog series, we give a citizen science perspective of our study on southern right whales to help you understand the work done by marine biologists in the field. Please see bottom of this blog post for an overview of future blogs in the series. This first post below describes the study location and outlines the migration and breeding patterns of the study species.
The overall aim of developing this blog series is to explore possibilities for communication of marine research activities and study the role of social media and citizen science in ecological research.
(1/7) Research location – Augusta
Augusta is a small coastal town in the south-west corner of Australia, with a strong local community and picturesque surrounding areas. It is a quiet place during the colder months, although this is slowly changing. The town itself was built on the banks of the Hardy Inlet, where the Blackwood River meets the Southern Ocean, and sits in a landscape mosaic of protected areas, agroforestry, agriculture and viticulture. Not far down the coast is Cape Leeuwin, well known as being the place where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. The section of coastline surrounding the town is remarkably ancient and dynamic, with sheltered tranquil bays contrasted by wild and rugged granite edged shorelines. It seems the convergence of water bodies and limited coastal development enables the area to support a rich and healthy collection of life. This, coupled with the fact that it is located in a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot, means that those with the time to stop and smell the coastal rosemary are often rewarded with surprises around most corners.
Augusta is one of the preferred Australian spots for cetaceans and other marine species. Long migrations between feeding and breeding grounds can be found in a variety of marine species from leatherback turtles to humpback and southern right whales. The southern right whales undertake a journey of thousands of miles from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to their sheltered coastal breeding grounds in lower latitudes. The primary breeding grounds are Península Valdés in Argentina, South Africa, Auckland Island (New Zealand) and along the southern coast of Australia.
In Australia, especially the waters of the Head of Bight is a well-established breeding ground, but also as far west as to Flinders Bay several breeding females can be found. The females give birth to their calves when they arrive at the breeding sites between May and June and spend on average 75 days nursing their calves before returning to the feeding grounds for the summer. During this time, the mothers are fasting while the calves grow big on their mother’s nutrient rich milk. The calves are, in other words, living off of their mother’s energy storage, her blubber. But there are also advantages to making the trip to higher latitudes to give birth. The coastal waters are very sheltered and shallow, which provide shelter from potential predators, and the water temperature is higher than on the feeding grounds. These factors provide good conditions for nursing a calf that has to build up strength and motor skills, as well as blubber, to later survive on the feeding grounds of Antarctica.
Research facilities and site conditions are among the key factors when choosing a study site. For this particular study, MUCRU made use of a small powerboat with capacity for four researchers, making it very important to have the facilities and right conditions to use the boat almost on daily basis. Augusta has a boat harbour opened in November 2014 that makes it an optimal choice for conducting the field research. There are more factors influencing this choice, such as having a nearby and tall lighthouse, as we explain in following posts.
Video: The research team in the study site of Augusta (Western Australia)
Thanks to the contributors to this post:
Michelle Keppel, Augusta
Mia Lybkær, Aarhus University
Soon you will be able to navigate through the other sections of the blog series:
- (I) The research location and its importance in the migration of southern right whales (this post)
- (II) Watching whales
- (III) D-tags: acoustic monitoring of southern right whales
- (IV) Using a drone to measure behaviour and health
- (V) Homework: downloading research data and getting ready for next day
- (VI) Informing and engaging the local community
- (VII) A first-person perspective of a student researching with MUCRU