Finding A Way to a sperm whale hotspot

Today I’m blogging from Kangaroo Island.  I’m here to take part in Science Week and am delighted to be discussing our recent Kangaroo Island research survey.

Our research was conducted in the time between the core blue whale feeding season and main southern right whale breeding season, and the findings were remarkable.

SIGHTINGS: We were fortunate enough to encounter several groups of common dolphins, pods of bottlenose dolphins, a number of fur seals, pilot whales, sperm whales and Shepherd’s beaked whales. Also, our acoustic analysis showed that the majority of whale and dolphin detections were situated within Bight Petroleum’s planned seismic survey area.

SPERM WHALES:  Thorough analysis of our acoustic data revealed that for sperm whales, this area is comparable to other globally important sperm whale habitats such as the Ionian Sea, Greece and the Hellenic Trench, south of Crete. Further years of research could tell us if the waters to the west of Kangaroo Island are a critical sperm whale hotspot in Australia.  

DAY AND NIGHT ACTIVITY: The majority of our acoustic detections (66%) took place during the hours of darkness and if we had used visual techniques alone, we would have missed at least 77% (or 46 groups) of passing whales or dolphins. Pilot whales were particularly vocal at night and our longest acoustic encounter with this species lasted over eight hours!

RARELY-SEEN: We spotted a group of three Shepherd’s beaked whales in a water depth of 2000-2500 metres; a species that may have only been previously seen alive at sea on fewer than ten occasions worldwide.  Beaked whales are the group of whales thought to be most susceptible to the negative impacts of manmade noise.

Overall, our results are both encouraging and incredibly concerning. We have been able to demonstrate that a diversity of whale and dolphin species are found in this area, but also that there is a desperate need for more information on critical whale habitats in Australian waters. This is especially true when oil and gas companies wish to conduct damaging activities in such sensitive marine environments.

--SL

WATCH: below to see the 7 News broadcast on our efforts:

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Experts

Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation