Professor Ken Pollock
Dr Sharon Hedley
Humpback whales can be sighted throughout the whole Great Barrier Reef from June through to October and yet the breeding area/s for humpback whales off the east coast of Australia in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) are poorly defined. We have a very good understanding of the migration pathways and timing of the whales along the coast, although have a poor understanding of whether there are clearly defined wintering areas for breeding and calving. The large size of the GBR has prohibited dedicated surveys of humpback whales to understand their distribution at a regional scale.
We now aim to validate the model by conducting dedicated and targeted aerial surveys within sub-regions of the GBRMP. The overall objective of this project is to identify the extent of the breeding grounds of humpback whales in the GBRMP at a regional scale of the whole Marine Park and identify areas containing habitat important to mating and calving whales. To achieve this, we will design and conduct dedicated and targeted aerial surveys based on the results of the predictive spatial habitat modelling project and satellite tag data.
Why is this Important?
The population of humpback whales off the east Australian coast (IWC substock E(i)) were hunted to near extinction in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, but since the early 1980’s has been undergoing a rapid rate of increase in population size of approximately 10.9% per year. There has also been a recently rapid increase in port development and associated shipping activity due to mining and industrial activity along the Queensland coast. The rapid increase of both the humpback whale population and human activities within the GBRMP means an increase in human interactions with breeding humpback whales is inevitable. It is critical to know the distribution and habitat use of humpback whales on their breeding ground in the GBRMP to effectively manage these interactions during the important breeding activities of mating and calving.