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Researchers are watching whale populations flourish as new technologies help track their wellbeing.
Drones and satellite imagery used to track whales have revolutionised the accuracy of population counts compared to traditional land-based surveys.
Australia has reached more than 50 per cent of what was believed to be the local whale population prior to hunting.
Murdoch University research fellow, Dr Joshua Smith said whale data gathered through tracking has seen a 10 per cent rise in Australian humpback populations annually.
Dr Smith said drones and satellites allowed for a more accurate estimate of the whales, because of the aerial view.
Cetacean Ecology Research Australia researcher, Dr Kylie Owen has worked with tags which track location and movement even when they’re below the surface, collecting biotelemetry data.
She said that one type of tag can “give us information such as migratory patterns and help us to locate unknown breeding grounds”.
MUSIC: “Oceans Apart” by Scott Holmes - Attribution-Non Commercial License (Modified: Beginning is at the end. Repeated phrase in the middle.)
While another gives more finer detail of what the whales are doing, such as, where, when, and how frequently they feed.
“Perhaps, they might show the energy expenditure of certain behaviours that the whale’s completing. So, it’s a much more fine-scale focus on the behaviour of that whale,” she said.
The tags also allow us to see how naval and seismic noise interferes with a whale’s ability to use sound for mating and finding food.
“Essentially, if humans are constantly pumping noise into the ocean, it becomes very hard for whales to hear each other,” Dr Owen said.
Entanglement is another threat, according to PHD researcher at University of Queensland, Jenny Allen.
She, too, has worked with digital tags that collect 3D movement data to better prevent whales getting caught in fishing equipment off North America’s east coast.
3D models of where and how they’re moving, as well as how close to the ocean floor they’re diving, provided a fuller picture of where whales were most at risk.
“Looking at their 3D movement to get an idea at how they’re moving under the water, so how they’re using they’re environment, is particularly important because there’s a big issue with entanglement and fishing gear,” she said.
If you want to be hunting the whale killers, then you need to start to think like them
Humpback whales came close to extinction in the 1950s and 60s following commercial whaling in the early twentieth century.
In response, humpbacks were protected in Australia in 1963, with the rest of world joining two years later.
Sea Shepherd Australia’s Jeff Hansen said that the success of hunting offending whaling vessels has been thanks to the organisation’s location data.
“If you want to be hunting the whale killers, then you need to start to think like them, and think ‘where will the whales be'? And that’s where whalers will likely be?" he said.
Dr Smith called Australia’s whale recovery somewhat of a “success story”, having one of the highest humpback recovery rates in the world.
Mid this year, the highest number of northbound humpbacks since 1997 was recorded by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) volunteers at Cape Solander, Kurnell.
This broke the same record reached in last year’s count.
Other counts have occurred across Australia, including by the University of Queensland, as well as not for profit Humpbacks and High-Rises, which also recorded an annual uptick in sightings.
Dr Smith said that an accurate conservation status cannot be drawn without data, as data-deficient areas are often given a higher status as a precaution.
“In many ways, data-deficient areas can be reflected by their conservation status,” Dr Smith said.