AN independent humpback whale survey undertaken in partnership between the Goojarr Goonyool Aboriginal Corporation and the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) has gathered data confirming that Pender Bay in the Kimberley is an important birthing, mating and resting ground for humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).
Pender Bay, 175km north of Broome—is now home to the fourth year of an independent humpback whale monitoring project jointly conducted by WAMSI and the remote Two Moons Whale and Marine Research Base.
WAMSI CEO and Marine Research Scientist Dr Steve Blake says, “We always knew that Pender Bay was important as a staging area because of the southern migration of the humpbacks and the predominance of mothers and calves in the September and October period.”
“But we’ve witnessed birthing and mating several times so it’s not just a staging area and there seems to be a large resident population of mothers and calves.”
Dr Blake says, “We went up to the Kimberley several times working alongside local ecotourism operators and some local people and word soon got round. The Goojarr Goonyool Aboriginal Corporation, who were very keen to have us support their survey with statistical analysis in an ongoing partnership sense, kindly contacted us. We have not looked back since then, a true collaborative effort.”
The Goojarr Goonyool Aboriginal Corporation provides a network of volunteers and all facilities at the Two Moons Whale and Marine Research Base where the whale survey data operates from. WAMSI provides a Lead Scientist trained in survey technique who co-ordinates the clifftop survey and supervises the volunteers.
“As a marine science organisation, we are simply providing a level of technical oversight, not only in the field but also the statistical analyses of the very large data sets. As well as whale distribution and behaviour data, we also collect human-use information like boat traffic, satellite and local meteorological data from the area, so we can look for any correlations with meteorological variables, tides, and so on with whale counts."
"It is a massive spreadsheet to analyse at the end of each season and then to do the inter-annual comparisons on. But that is the ‘hard yards’ you have to do to build independent baselines from the ground up.”
Volunteers in groups of four spot up to 10km offshore on a clear day from the cliffs of Pender Bay where they have a 190-degree arc view of the ocean. Two people survey by naked eye and two people survey using binoculars with x20 magnification.
In 2008 in its report, A Turning of the Tide, WAMSI identified the Kimberley coastal and marine offshore areas as a priority area for marine science, because when compared to the rest of Australia, there is relatively little publically available baseline information.
Following this, WAMSI made several exploratory trips to the Kimberley region to begin to collect data and understand the logistics of operating in such an isolated area, working alongside local businesses and people.
This grass-roots humpback whale monitoring project has been a precursor and is now included in the public-good Kimberley Marine Research Program, now formally commenced, being led by WAMSI as part of the WA State Government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.
This story pertains to deliveries in theme 3 of the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.