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Saving Western Australia’s iconic whales

Media release

Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) has initiated a collaborative science program, SouWEST, to help secure the long-term future of vulnerable and endangered whales in south Western Australia.

The newly established program integrates the research expertise of CMST at Curtin, Western Whale Research (WWR), and the community outreach experience of the Dunsborough Coast and Land Care (D-CALC) group, with an aim to improve the scientific foundation for environmental management and whale species protection.

CMST Deputy Director, Dr Chandra Salgado Kent, said iconic cetacean species, including the humpback, blue, and the southern right whales, listed internationally as high-priority species for conservation, used locations within south Western Australia for migrating, resting, and calving each year.

“Not only do locations such as Geographe Bay provide key habitat for whales of a variety of species, but it is one of very few places in the world where the largest of these animals, the blue whale, migrates within hundreds of metres of the coast,” Dr Salgado Kent said.

“Blue Whale populations in particular, continue to be listed as endangered and have not recovered since the whaling that decimated the population from 1915-1965.

“We want to better understand the current status of whales so that we can ensure that any current ongoing pressures to the population can be managed for effective population recovery and species conservation.”

Dr Salgado Kent said the SouWEST study also sought to obtain a better idea of the current numbers of whales using significant resting areas during sensitive periods of their life history, including mother and calf pairs.

“Geographe Bay is a last stop for many whales migrating south with their young calves before crossing the Southern Ocean to Antarctica or the southern convergence zone to reach their main feeding grounds,” she said.

“Therefore, obtaining a long-term data set investigating how whales are using this location is fundamental to conservation efforts. Without this information, it will not be possible for us to fully understand the significance of Geographe Bay to these animals.”

Dr Salgado Kent said the SouWEST study would also look at gaining a better understanding of whale vocalisation behaviour when migrating in WA waters.

“Last year’s acoustic recordings were filled with humpback whale song and a variety of blue whale vocalisations, resulting in a wealth of information on acoustic behaviours and whale group interactions in the resting area,” she said.

Two Master of Marine Mammal Science field coordinators, Ms Sarah Marley and Ms Angela Recalde-Salas, also of CMST, assisted and ran the whale tracking component of the SouWEST program in 2011.

CMST comprises a multi-skilled group of scientists and engineers committed to the development of technical ocean-related skills in Australia with expertise fitting into four major categories: Hydrodynamics, Underwater Acoustics, Marine Ecology and Stereoscopic Imaging.

The Centre works in close cooperation with Curtin’s Department of Imaging and Applied Physics, Department of Applied Geology, Remote Sensing Group, Aquatic Science Group, and Department of Environmental Biology, as well as the Western Australian Energy Research Alliance, Integrated Marine Observing System, the Australian Maritime College, and many others.

Contacts:

Dr Chandra Salgado Kent, CMST, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 3104, Email: c.salgado@cmst.curtin.edu.au

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Mob: 0401 103 755, Email: andrea.barnard@curtin.edu.au

Web: http://souwest.org

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