Help us research whales on the Great Barrier Reef

A research assistant taking photos to identify dorsal fins of humpback whales.Last month, we wrote a blog to let you know about an amazing opportunity that would allow you to experience whale conservation for yourselves, working alongside world-class scientists from mid-July to mid-September. There’s still time to join the Great Barrier Reef Whale and Dolphin Research Programme and study humpback whales in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  If the very thought of it didn’t tempt you, here’s more insight from Lesley Douglas, MSC. Marine Scientist into what’s in store if you joined the team.  –RTJ

We’ve just received news that the first of the east Australian humpback whales are arriving at the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). We’re now in countdown mode until we begin the GBR and Dolphin Research Programme for 2017. In about 50 days’ time the first of our research teams will be setting off from Airlie Beach in Queensland to gather information about humpback whales in the region. Working alongside world-class scientists, research assistants are guaranteed an experience they’ll never forget.

So, what can research assistants expect during their time with us?

Research trips are typically six days in length, and the entire research team lives aboard our vessel – RV Flying Fish V – over that time. Measuring 23 metres in length, the boat offers plenty of space for all aboard. With air conditioning and other creature comforts, it’s a bit more luxury than us science bods are used to. The food is pretty good, too!

Each morning begins at about 7 am with a meeting to discuss the research activities for that day. The team then heads off on Flying Fish or one of our smaller vessels to scout for pods of humpbacks. At the beginning and towards the end of the research season we typically come across 10 or more pods each day. In the middle of the season, when things really get going, we see somewhere between 20-30 pods per day.

There’s a lot to do.

Research vessel – Flying Fish V. PHOTO: © Blue Planet Marine

When we find a pod of whales there are some things, such as biopsying, that only trained personnel are allowed to do, but otherwise research assistants help with all aspects of the programme. This includes:

  • taking identification photos of whale tail flukes,
  • collecting sloughed skin and biopsy darts from the water,
  •  recording information about whale behaviour,
  • assisting with acoustic monitoring, downloading data,
  •  processing genetic samples and
  • even doing some boat work.
  • The scientists are always there to mentor and help.

At the end of each research day Flying Fish will anchor at sheltered spots within the GBR. On some evenings researchers give presentations about the marine mammals of the area or other aspects of the research we’re undertaking.

It’s not all work though. There’s time for play too. Research assistants often bring along their snorkelling gear and jump in the water to experience the beauty of the GBR first-hand.

Researchers may hop aboard one of our smaller vessels to scout for pods of humpbacks. PHOTO: © Blue Planet Marine

To learn more about the programme and secure your place with us visit

At the moment, we’ve discounted the Programme fee by $300 Australian dollars. As a special bonus to IFAW supporters, we’re discounting the price by a further $200 Australian dollars. That means a saving of $500 Australian dollars for each research trip booked by IFAW supporters. You’ll have to be quick though, only the first ten IFAW supporters will receive this additional discount. To claim the IFAW discount, simply enter the voucher code IFAW2017 at our online checkout:

Looking forward to seeing you on the GBR!


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