A new company announced in Busselton today plans to spearhead support for professional research on the whale migration through Geographe Bay in Western Australia’s South West.
Chair Frank Eckler said Geographe Marine Research aimed to protect whales and their environment in the South West through raising more funds for targeted research and the development of new liaisons with other whale research groups in Australia and overseas.
“Research has been underway from a land base in Geographe Bay since 2004, undertaken by trained local volunteers and small organisations. As research technology becomes more complex, it grows beyond the capability of volunteer groups to finance. That inability to raise adequate funding has been a major barrier in benefiting from the efforts made to date,” Mr Eckler said.
“We have four baleen whale species passing through Geographe Bay every year including blue, southern right, humpback and minke whales during their southern migration season from July through to December.
“It’s clear their numbers along our South West coast are recovering. That’s encouraging, but it’s now vitally important we are more proactive and professional in assisting them with better support mechanisms for the research,” Mr Eckler said.
“We also must have the statistics and evidence to support more protection of their habitats as they move along our Western Australian coast,” he said.
Mr Eckler said the Company hoped to attract sponsorship support from local companies and corporations for the work ahead. “Public donations can also be made via our company website. All donations are tax deductible.”
Company director Chris Burton said that since 2004, trained local volunteers and researchers associated with Geographe Marine Research had spent about 20,000 hours collecting and analysing observation data, together with photo and video identification.
Mr Burton has been a Director of Western Whale Research for 18 years, taking a lead role in organising local volunteer whale watchers, data collection and analysis.
“I’ve joined Geographe Marine Research from the beginning as I see the company as the way forward in harnessing resources to enable more studies and protection for our whales,” Mr Burton said.
“There are still many answers we need about the migratory patterns of whales, the impact of climate change on their populations, movements and food sources in the coming years. Currently, for instance, there is an urgent need to study the implications of human interference on southern right whales, especially mother calf pairs, particularly in the Geographe Bay, Smiths Beach, Yallingup and Injidup areas.
“In recent years southern rights have been migrating further north along our coast as far as Perth, with the mothers resting with their young in small bays en route. Unfortunately, their presence attracts recreational vessels that disturb them and they are forced to move on. Little is known about the impact this disturbance has on the survival rate of the young calves,” he said.
Geographe Marine Research is a CSIRO Approved Research Institute and has ATO Deductible Gift Recipient status. It is a not for profit company.
4th June, 2021
MEDIA STATEMENT FACT SHEET – Geographe Marine Research Limited (GMR)
PRINCIPAL COMPANY OBJECTIVES:
WHALE DATA AND THE NEED TO FUND MORE RESEARCH
- Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM).
Acoustic data loggers were deployed in Geographe Bay between 2010-2014 to record the calls and songs of passing whales as part of the South West Whale Ecology Study (SouWEST) through the Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Curtin University. Since the initial deployment, more than 12 papers using the acoustic data have been published in peer-reviewed journals or presented at scientific conferences.
Geographe Marine Research Ltd will undertake further work in this field. For example, additional deployment of acoustic loggers will provide data for an assessment of any changes in the underwater noise environment, including from boat traffic, and human impacts on whales in Geographe Bay.
- Theodolite Tracking.
In 2010, a 5 year theodolite tracking study began in Geographe Bay as part of South West Whale Ecology Study (SouWEST), through the Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Curtin University. The theodolite allows accurate tracking of whales and whale watching boats. By combining tracking and acoustic platforms, the research allowed for a wide range of behavioural information to be collected. This information included improvements in acoustic abundance estimates and support (to DPIRD) in research investigating the effectiveness of pingers on craypot traps in deterring whales to reduce entanglement risk. This work has resulted in several peer-reviewed papers and reports, including one analysing the impact of boats on blue whale behaviour in Geographe Bay and another by the Dept. of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones)
Authorised drones also are now being used to compliment the monitoring research (under permits from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions).
These drones have become a very important tool for confirming species’ pod size and composition, and in identifying whale behaviours and mixed-species interactions. They also have enabled accurate identification of individual southern right whales, enabling the determination of residency time within Geographe Bay.
Drone images and videos were used during the 2020 whale season to provide measurements of key whale parameters such as total length and body width. These measurements allow important analysis of body condition and the relative size between mothers and calves.
- WHALE STATISTICS FOR GEOGRAPHE BAY
We only see in Geographe Bay a proportion of the total numbers of humpbacks that are on their southward’s migration. The rest presumably go past Cape Naturaliste out to sea.
In 2018 more than 4000 humpbacks were spotted by monitors in Geographe Bay.