An Exciting Start to Australia’s Whalewatch Season

This whalewatch season in Hervey Bay, Australia marks an exciting continuation of Pacific Whale Foundation’s mission to protect our oceans and study the humpback whales in the East Australian population. These whales stop over in Platypus Bay every winter on their migration back to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) began its long relationship with Australia’s whalewatching capital in the 1980s when our Founder and Executive Director, Greg Kaufman, discovered the beauty of the humpback whales in Platypus Bay, off of Fraser Island, and pioneered the area’s first whalewatch on a borrowed fishing boat. Since then, Greg and the PWF researchers have been important figures in Hervey Bay, conducting photo-identification studies on these amazing animals each winter.

Humpback whale flukes are uniquely patterned and can provide valuable information for scientists in a way that is similar to our human fingerprints. Using photo-ID, our researchers have created a catalog that allows us to better study and understand the habitats and life history traits of these marine mammals without using more invasive methods such as tagging. PWF currently has a Southern Hemisphere catalog of over 6,000 whales. As we are better able to study these animals, our researchers can identify better means of protecting them.

This year, we invite the public to come on board with us on our new state of the art vessel, Ocean Defender, as we embark on daily Ultimate Whalewatches from the Great Sandy Straits Marina that are unlike anything many have experienced. Not only will we have a Researcher On Board collecting photo-ID data, we also have a university educated certified Marine Naturalist interpreting the whale behavior in order to allow passengers to appreciate these animals and have a life-changing encounter. By coming out with us, our passengers are the backbone of what we do at Pacific Whale Foundation, with all of the proceeds supporting the research and education taking place in Australia.

Join us as we continue to pursue research, education, and conservation, and become a part of what we are doing at Pacific Whale Foundation. Visit PacificWhale.com.au for more information on our Hervey Bay Ultimate Whalewatches. We look forward to showing you the majestic humpback whales that have inspired so many of us to dedicate our lives to helping them.

FACT OF THE WEEK: Whales play a crucial role in the carbon cycle

MORE ON THIS: In a previous Fact of the Week, we learned how plankton helps the oceans ‘biological pump’, a process that supports the global carbon cycle by removing carbon from the air and storing it in the deep sea. This week, we’re going to talk about the largest living creatures in the ocean, whales, and their role in the carbon cycle. Their movements, deaths, and even feces all contribute to the ‘whale pump’ which works with the biological pump to promote carbon storage.

Movement: When whales swim from deep waters to the surface, they move nutrients up with them. Bringing nutrients to the surface increases the food source for phytoplankton, which play the first part in carbon uptake.

 

Death: When dead whales sink to the ocean floor, they take with them all the carbon that has built up in their body over their lifetime. As the largest marine mammals, that’s a lot of carbon, similar to the huge amounts of carbon stored in old trees.

Feces: When whales swim to the surface, they poo, releasing large fecal plumes which are extremely nutrient-rich and widely consumed by plankton. As one of the larger whale species, sperm whale poop alone might remove hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon from the atmosphere by promoting plankton growth.

Before population declines due to industrial whaling, it is estimated that large baleen whales used to remove millions of tons more carbon than they do today. Scientists suggest that restoring whale populations could greatly increase ocean carbon storage again and may be just as effective as reforestation projects and ocean iron fertilization.

By Kaitlin Yehle

 

FURTHER READING:

  1. Whales Keep Carbon out of the Atmosphere.
  2. The Impact of Whaling on the Ocean Carbon Cycle: Why Bigger Was Better.
  3. Whales as marine ecosystem engineers. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Roman J, Estes JA, Morissette L, Smith C, Costa D, McCarthy J, Nation JB, Nicol S, Pershing A and Smetacek V. 2014. 12(7): 377-385.

 

Field season in Australia is underway

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia research program is off to a great start this year. Based out of the town of Hervey Bay, we observe the whales as they migrate along the east coast of Australia, travelling south to their Antarctic feeding grounds. We have had some amazing whale encounters, and we are already starting to see mothers arriving with their calves. Our research staff and volunteers have been going out daily since mid-July to photograph the humpback whales that migrate through the region. The whales in this population mate and have their calves in the tropical areas of northeast Australia and Oceania. The bay is relatively shallow and protected by Fraser Island, offering a nice area for the whales to stop over during their long migration south.

Working from the MV Amaroo operated by the Hervey Bay Boat Club, our researchers take opportunistic identification photos of the underside of the whales’ tail flukes. Since each fluke is unique to the individual, these photos allow us to compare the fluke of each whale we see in the field with our catalog of known whales to determine the history of sightings for each animal. Additionally, the team tries to get photos of the dorsal fins and body of the animal which helps us assess overall body condition as well as any lesions or scars that may indicate injury or poor health. To learn more about our Australian research projects, visit our website. To try your hand at matching fluke photos from our South Pacific catalog, create an account and get started at Match My Whale.

 

PWF Ecuador Hosts Training for Tour Operators

Under the coordination of the Ministry of Environment and Machalilla National Park, Pacific Whale Foundation Ecuador provided a free training during the months of August through early September. The gathering was a unique opportunity for Puerto López residents to learn from National Park representatives. Specifically directed towards those in constant interaction with whales, the training was attended by park rangers, guides, and captains of Machalilla National Park.

Collectively, the training brought together about 90 people including both veteran guides with many years of experience and new ones who will help with future protection. We were delighted to have the talkative guides with all their questions and even the silent captains who needed teambuilding games to loosen their tongues a little!

Participants received valuable information in the format of three different presentations. The talks covered topics such as correct boat practices in the presence of whales, and we were also able to share whalewatching statistics as well as our recent research findings. Pacific Whale Foundation’s Cristina Castro, Ph.D., Researcher Director of Ecuador, presented information regarding a whale that was photo-identified in Ecuador and a couple of years later was also identified in South Sandwich Island, a migratory distance of approximately 10,000km. Attendees were fascinated by this topic and expressed a great interest to learn more.

It is opportunities like these that encourage us in our 18 consecutive years of research, conservation, and education. We are committed to training and educating the residents of Puerto Lopez, following through and moving forward with research, and above all, sharing everything we know to protect and conserve humpback whales in our beloved Ecuador.

Expedition down under

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers arrived this week in Hervey Bay, a quaint community in northern Queensland. For the next few months, I will be documenting research efforts and managing our little shop as humpback whales make their annual migration from the subtropic waters of eastern Australia to their feeding grounds of Antarctica. Stephanie Stack, M.Sc. PWF’s Senior Research Biologist and Research Assistant Laura Behm will be photographing flukes and recording data of daily sightings for ongoing research in the area.

Began in 1984, Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia humpback whale research program is the longest running study of this population. The overarching goal of PWF’s research is to advance understanding of humpback whale biology, population status and impacts of human activities on the population. PWF’s Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale ID Catalog is a compilation of 31 seasons of research, combining detailed data on life history, behavior, spatial distribution, and human impacts.

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Promising partnership in Guatemala

Whalewatching continues to grow globally with new markets emerging. Guatemala is the latest country seeking to develop whale watch operations off its Pacific coast focusing on the annual migration of humpback whales that migrate through their waters December through June. The humpbacks are thought to be en route to/from their breeding and calving grounds off Costa Rica, and likely spend their summer months feeding near central California northward to BC, Canada.

Greg Kaufman, founder of Pacific Whale Foundation recently traveled to the small coastal community of Montericco, Guatemala — best known for its 20km- long nature reserve of coast and coastal mangrove wetlands — to speak with tour operators about whalewatching and learn first-hand their challenges and whale observations.

The department of tourism, INGUAT, reached out to Kaufman for advice on this new developing industry. They stressed the importance of wanting to take a scientific approach to cultivate sustainable tourism in the area. Kaufman shared his thoughts on regulation and responsible practices.

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