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, traveling 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.
Along with photo-identification, our researchers take photographs of the whale’s genital region to try and determine sex. Here you can see the hemispherical lobe near the genital slit which clearly identifies this as a female.
Occasionally, whales jump high enough out of the water that we can use breaching photos to determine the sex of the whale, as with this male. Note the lack of a hemispherical lobe near the genital slit.
Fluke photos can also give PWF researchers the opportunity to assess injuries such as this possible cookie cutter shark wound. With repeated sightings, we can track the healing and scarring of this lesion as well as the overall health of the animal.
A calf spyhopping while its mother swims along next to it.
A calf (left) swims with its mother (right)
PWF Research Assistants Eilidh (left) and Rachael (right) record data and photos while watching a pod of humpback whales.
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.