Southern Right Whale research and monitoring project

Southern Right Whale Image: Mandy Watson SRW monitoring project

Southern Right Whale and calf. Image:Mandy Watson

The Southern Right Whale is Australia’s only inshore large whale species and was almost hunted to extinction. The south-eastern Australian population remains very low (250 -300 animals). This project is fundamental to gaining an understanding of the species ecology and population trends in south-eastern Australia.

Genetic Research

Image: Southern Right Whale genetic research
Taking biopsy samples under strict conditions to determine genetic differentiation.
 

There is now evidence of significant differentiation between South Africa, South America, Australia (WA) and New Zealand haplotype and nucleotype levels (Patenaude et al. 2007). Further genetic work between 2001 – 2009 involved data collection from South Eastern Australia which was coordinated by DEPI with support of state and commonwealth funding (AMMC).

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA from 56 samples from New Zealand, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales found:

(Carroll et al. 2011)

In 2014, further work was carried out with an expanded sample size (94 whales) which also included Tasmania.  Preliminary results indicate a confirmed significant mt DNA differentiation between South East and South West populations  and differences between states detected using microsat data which is being investigated further. 

Photo Identification

southern right whale photo identification
Features used in photo identification, based on terms used by (Bannister 1990). 
 

Each Southern Right Whale has its own unique pattern of white markings (callosities) covering the head area which is used for photo identification (see diagram, based on Bannister 1990). There are four major identification catalogues in Australasia, (South-east Australia, Head of Great Australian Bight, Western Australia and New Zealand). Workshops are held every two to three years at which time photos are matched to assess population size, structure and movement. 

The South-eastern Southern Right Whale photo-identification catalogue was established in 2002. It is a multi-government agency project which is co-ordinated by DELWP, Warrnambool. The project is supported by Commonwealth and State based threatened species funding.

Whale identification flights are conducted opportunistically from South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales. Images are stored in Southeast Australia Southern Right Whale Photo Identification Catalogue (SEA SRW PIC). The project also uses the BigFish© system developed for the South Australian government. It is an Access Database with photo-ID matching facility (CodeCompare) based on a system designed in USA.  The catalogue holds over 3000 images - primarily dorsal view comprising of 305 individual whales.

 

Examples of individual whales which have been identified by matching  the unique pattern of white markings (callosities) covering the head area over repeated seasons. Source: SEA SRW PIC Catalogue - Warrnambool.
 

Key findings from photo ID:

DELWP sightings database

Sightings of whales have been carried out by the DEPI at Warrnambool since 1985.  Between 1985 to 2012,  69 calves have been born at Logans Beach, Warrnambool with an average of 2 per year. The most born in one year was 6 calves in 1985.  Records indicate no discernible increasing trend. These results combined with the photo identification work suggests that the South-eastern population is small, isolated and therefore very vulnerable compared to other populations which have recorded a 7% increase per year.

Across Victoria, the location of whale sightings is highly variable and usually with a short residency period. The areas of highest density are Portland, Port Fairy and Warrnambool (Logans Beach), Port Campbell Peterborough.

The majority of first sightings in western Victoria1 occur in May (54%) and June (42%). The majority of last sightings in western Victoria occur in September (50%) and October (38%) but there may be an increasing trend towards October with last sightings occurring in 7 out of last 10 years in October.

The earliest sighting on record was at Portland on 22 April 2006. The latest sighting on record was also at Portland on 27 October 2010.

An unusual sighting of a 'white' Southern Right Whale off Port Fairy 27 July 2011 taken by Mandy Watson, DEPI, Warrnambool as part of the Victorian Whale monitoring program.
 

Cow and calf pairs (records 2001 - 2011) 

Eastern

Central

Western

 

Aerial Survey

The first full population surveys of the South-east Australian region to obtain abundance estimates commenced in August 2013 and were conducted privately by Balaenidae. These surveys used the same methodology which has been used in South-west Australia since the 1970’s.

The aerial surveys involve long coastal flights conducted between Ceduna and Sydney including Tasmania over 7 days to count numbers of Southern Right Whales. A population model is based on the number of cow/calf pairs and assumes;

The 2013 total population estimate was 189 (assuming same numbers of females each year for 3 years) or adjusted to 201 (assuming contiguous with WA). A 2014 survey was completed but the data has not yet been collated.  

A minimum of 3 years survey is required to obtain a more accurate snapshot of population abundance. 

Southern Right Whale calf survival, recruitment and movement study

A new study into Southern Right Whale calf survival, recruitment and movement commenced at Logans Beach in late August 2017. The study involves using Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or drones to obtain clear dorsal images of the callosity patterns of the calves and their mothers. The images collected will be used to identify, record and follow individual calves.

Using photo-identifications of calves born this year, the study hopes to find them again on the Australian coast during future winter breeding seasons. This information will be critical to understanding what factors may be affecting Southern Right Whale population growth and distribution in SE Australia. Ninety calves have been recorded at Logans Beach since the early 1980's but it’s not known what happens to these calves once they leave the coast and migrate to their sub-Antarctic feeding grounds.

The data being collected will be added to the South East Australian Southern Right Whale Photo-Identification Catalogue (SEA SRW PIC).

The research, funded with support from the Victorian Government is a partnership between DELWP regional staff and DELWP’s Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI).  A research permit (no. 10008394) under Section 78 (1) (c) of the Wildlife Act 1975 and Animal Ethics approval (AEC 17-006) were obtained for this project allowing us to operate the RPAS closer to whales than is normally allowed. In accordance with the Wildlife (Marine Mammals) Regulations 2009, RPAS or ‘drone’ operators are normally required to keep their craft a distance of at least 500m above and 500m horizontally from a whale. DELWP sourced fully qualified and experienced RPAS pilots and systems for this research and flights were conducted in accordance with CASA regulations. Close monitoring of whales was undertaken during RPAS flights to detect any behavioural responses to the RPAS.

2017 photo ID results

2018 photo ID results

Citizen Science

Citizen Science has become an integral part of the Southern Right Whale monitoring program. Reports are encouraged from public sightings. In addition, the use of high-quality images can assist in photo-ID. In 2017 Twenty-five members of the whale watching community from Victoria, South Australia and NSW provided data on 56 sighting events. This data resulted in 16 new whales for the catalogue plus 36 documented sightings of 18 of the 32 new whales identified.

In 2018 citizen science assisted in identifying 5 cow:calf pairs. The Deakin University Whale watcher program had 27 volunteers undertaking whale watching 7 days a week at Logan’s Beach. View video.

 

Southern Right Whale records in Victoria

Highlights of whale sightings between 23 July to 17 August 2011

This summary of sightings between 23 July to 17 August 2011 was compiled from information provided by Mandy Watson, Senior Natural Resource Management Officer - Biodiversity, Department Sustainability and Environment, 78 Henna St Warrnambool 3280, Phone: (03) 55619961. Contact Mandy Watson for more detailed daily reports.

The Warrnambool Whale Watch Volunteer Project was made possible with the assistance of 22 volunteers.

The first sighting of a Southern Right Whale off Victoria's south west coastline for 2011 was 10 May at Logans Beach near Warrnambool.

Between 23 July and 17 August there have been many sightings of Southern Right Whales along the south-west coast of Victoria. Several sighting have included cow and calf pairs. Sightings are likely to continue until the end of October, possibly into early November.

Between 23 July and 18 August 2011 a cow and calf pair has been sighted virtually every day at Logans Beach, Warrnambool. Between 12 -17 August there was also another single sub-adult Southern Right Whale present.

Other interesting dates


On 4 August two Humpback Whales were sighted at Barwon Heads and another two at Port Phillip Heads. On 13 August 1 pod of Humpback Whales were seen in Port Phillip Bay. On 17 August 2-3 Humpback Whales were seen at Portland.

Last SRW Whale sighting at Logans Beach 28 August 2011.

Logans Beach conclusions


Photo-ID results:


Summary 2012

The first sightings of Southern Right Whales occurred on 17 May 2012 at Barwon Heads. Since then there have been regular sightings along the south west Victorian coastline. Confirmed sightings of pairs of Southern Right Whales have occurred at Port Fairy, Logans Beach, south east of Portland, at Portland, Cape nelson. Four Southern Right Whales were recorded at Narrawong on 6 July. A confirmed Humpback Whale sighting was recorded at Cape Nelson on 4 July. There have been unconfirmed sightings of Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales reported off Bridgewater Bay, Cape Otway and Lorne during June-July.


Summary 2013

The first confirmed sightings of Southern Right Whales in Victoria occurred on 28 May 2013 at Port Fairy and the first cow and calf pair was recorded at Logans Beach on 9 June 2013. The last sightings for the season were on 5 October with a cow and calf pair at Logans Beach.

This year Southern Right Whales were observed at numerous sites along the Victorian coastline with validated sightings at Port Fairy, Portland, Bridgewater, Cape Nelson, Logans Beach, Port Fairy, Narrawong, Killarney, Apollo Bay, Lorne, Anglesea, Bells Beach, Jan Juc, Ocean Grove, Phillip Island, Wilsons Promontory, Lake Tyres, Cape Conran, Tamboon Inlet and Wingan Inlet.

A survey conducted on 31 August counted a total of 28 southern right whales in Victoria. These were located at Bridgewater, Logans Beach and far East Gippsland

Cow and calf pair sightings were made at Logans Beach, Port Campbell, Anglesea, Wilsons Promontory and near Lorne but Logans Beach was clearly Victoria's most important location with regular cow and calf sighting from July through to early October. There were numerous days when three cow and calf pairs were observed. During August up to five cow and calf pairs were present with 16 whales counted at Logans Beach on 28 August.


By using photo-matching it has been found that two of the three mothers are regular Warrnambool females. One of the females called 'Big Lips' was recorded with a calf at Logans Beach in 1995, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2013. The other female named 'Long Coaming' has been recorded with a calf at Logans Beach in 2001, 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Summary 2014

This summary was provided by Mandy Watson, Senior Natural Resource Management Officer - Biodiversity, Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries, Barwon South West Region, Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria.

Highlights

A minimum total of 10 cow:calf pairs were confirmed during the 2014 season across the Victorian coast.  6 were recorded in the Warrnambool - Portland area, 1 in the Anglesea - Barwon Heads area and 3 at Wilson's Promontory. The last calf recorded at Logan's Beach this year was born between 9 - 12 Sept making it the latest calf on record.

Movements of individual whales have been documented courtesy of the DEPI photo-identification matching project (SEA SRW PIC) with ID contributions from a range of sources.  The project acknowledges contributions of the Warrnambool Whale Watch volunteers and data contributors; P. Read, C. Farrell, Deakin University, B. McPherson, and M. Hartney. 

 

2015 whale sightings

Summary 2015

This summary was provided by Many Watson (DELWP) 03 55 619961. 

It's been a reasonably good season across the Victorian coast with plenty of opportunity to view southern right whales with from the Logans Beach viewing platform. Two Logans Beach regulars known as Big Coaming and Tripod were present with their calves throughout the months of July and August.

Big Coaming arrived on 18 June and was first spotted with her calf on 7 July. Tripod arrived on 7 July with her calf.  It is estimated by their size that both calves were born around the beginning of July. Tripod and her calf left the area in late August followed by Big Coaming and her calf in early September. Both of these females have been identified (from the callosity pattern on the head) as having visited Logans Beach in at least 4 previous seasons. Tripod was first identified in 1995 and Big Coaming was first identified in 2001.

In addition to our resident females and calves a small number of single southern right whales made brief  visits to Logans Beach. The maximum daily count at Logans Beach occurred on 16 August with 6 southern right whales (two cow:calf pairs plus 2 single adults) observed.

There were also numerous reports of travelling humpback whales and resting southern right whales in many of the usual bays along the coast throughout the season. Some unusual sightings this year include;

Weekly summaries

Below is a list of the confirmed reports from Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP), Mandy Watson, Senior Biodiversity Officer.

We have had a lot of reports so far and of particular interest is the return of two of our regular female Southern Right Whales to the Logan's Beach nursery, Warrnambool and the safe arrival of their calves last week. These females are known as 'Big Coaming' and 'Tripod' based on their callosity patterns (individually unique white features on their heads)

Whale sightings summary (update issued 17 July 2015):


SRW = Southern Right Whale
HBW = Humpback Whale
CC = Cow:Calf pair

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 24 July 2015 (update issued 27 July 2015)


There are unconfirmed reports of southern right whales at Apollo Bay and Aireys Inlet over the weekend and a pod of killer whales near Port Campbell last Tuesday. Further information is being obtained to confirm these reports. If anyone has photos of further information regarding these unconfirmed reports please contact Mandy Watson (DEWLP) 03 55 619961.
 

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 31 July 2015

 

Unconfirmed reports for week ending 31 July 2015

There are several unconfirmed reports of southern right whales in the Lorne/Stony Creek/Airey's Inlet area during the week. 

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 7 August 2015
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 14 August 2015
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 21 August 2015 

 

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 28 August 2015
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 4 September 2015
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 11 September 2015
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 18 September 2015

 

2016 whale sightings

2016 Summary

This summary of sightings between 16 May to 29 August 2016 was compiled from information provided by Mandy Watson, Senior Project Officer Wildlife Emergencies|Biodiversity Division  Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, 703 - 709 Raglan Parade, Warrnambool 3280, Phone: (03) 55619961. 

Official volunteer whale watching commenced in April 2016 with a slow start to the season. The first unconfirmed whale sighting was on 7 April at Port Fairy and the first confirmed Southern Right Whale sighting for the season being on 21 May at Apollo Bay.

Only two Southern Right Whale females with calves were recorded in Victorian waters this season. Both of these were matched with previously identified females in the SE Australian photo-ID catalogue (SEA SRW PIC).

One of these females, known as 'Bonnet' is a regular from Logans Beach, having been recorded there with calves in 2002 and 2009. 'Bonnet' arrived at Logans Beach amongst a group of other adults on 10 July and disappeared the following day.  She re-appeared at Logan's Beach on 18 July with a calf, but again stayed for only one day. She was not identified again until 7 August where she was photographed at Skene's Creek, although a female with calf had been reported in the Lorne area on 5 August. 'Bonnet' and her calf re-appeared at Logans Beach on 20 August and were last seen there on 22 August.

The other female with calf was recorded at Portland and is relatively new to the catalogue. She has only been recorded once before - in Tasmania - also with a calf.  This female was first reported to DELWP with a calf on 19 July at Portland and the pair was regularly observed there (mostly off Dutton Way), until 29 August, a total minimum of 42 days.

In addition to the two nursing females a large mating group of up to 7 adult southern right whales appears to have moved up and down the coast through the season. These whales were first reported at Logans Beach on 10 July, then at Port Fairy on 16 and 18 July. It appears they may have moved east from there, as mating groups were seen at Wye River on 24 July and Point Addis on 27 July. Up to 7 were seen at Port Fairy on 16 and 17 August, and 5 were seen at Portland on 22 August. Photo-ID matching has not yet been completed to confirm if these were all part of the same group, but the behaviours, locations and sequence of sightings would suggest they were. Interestingly a large mating group showed up in the Encounter Bay area in South Australia at the end of August.

Other interesting sightings include;

Southern Right Whale (cow and calf pair) at Portland on 5 August 2016. Image: Bob McPherson

2016 Weekly summaries 

These are confirmed reports from Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP), Mandy Watson, Senior Biodiversity Officer.

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 12 July 2016

 

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 22 July 2016
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 29 July 2016
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 5 August 2016
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 12 August 2016

The whale identification catalogue and contributions from volunteer photographers has enabled Mandy to identify two cow:calf pairs that we currently have on our coast. Firstly the female with calf near Lorne has been identified as 'Bonnet', a whale who has been recorded at Logans Beach with calves in two previous years; 2002 and 2009. The female with a calf at Portland does not have a name but was identified in Tasmania 3 years ago where she was photographed with a calf at Southport on the far south east coast. This whale is new to the Victorian photo-identification catalogue.

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 19 August 2016
Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 26 August 2016

 

A two-metre long juvenile male Pygmy Right Whale (Caperea marginata) was found washed up dead at The Cutting near Killarney Beach west of Warrnambool on 26 August.

Confirmed whale sightings for the week ending 2 Septmber 2016 (final report for 2016)

SWIFFT wishes to thank Mandy and the volunteers for their sightings and confirmation of reports.

 

Results from the 2016 photo-ID matching for the  South East Australian Photo Identification Catalogue (SEA SRW PIC) project. 

Summary from Mandy Watson, Senior Biodiversity Officer, Barwon South West - Forest, Fire and Regions, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

A total of 23 photographed sightings 'events' were received from different 14 contributors from Victoria and NSW during the 2016 season. From these 23 events, 14 different whale IDs were obtained.  Of the 14 IDs, twelve were whales which are new to the catalogue and two were whales from previous years. Both of these re-sights involved cow and calf pairs, one known as 'Bonnet' a regular from Logans Beach and one which spent this season at Portland was first identified in Tasmania in 2013. The remaining 12 whales were adults without calves.

19 of the 23 photographed sightings events involved the remaining 12 IDs, which means that some whales were photographed on more than one occasion at more than one location. One whale photographed near Gabo Island in far East Gippsland was photographed again off Kilcunda in South Gippsland 8 days later. 5 whales ID'd this year were part of a large mating group which moved west along the Victorian coast from Anglesea to Apollo Bay to Port Fairy then Yambuk over a 3 - 4 week period.

This photo-ID research provides valuable insights into habitat use and population trends within South East Australia.  

Mandy acknowledges the valuable contributions received from observers which is fundamental to the project's success.

 

2017 Whale sightings

Summary of 2017 Whale season in Victoria adapted from information provided by Mandy Watson, Senior Biodiversity Officer, Barwon South West,  Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP).

2017 has been one of the biggest years on record for both Southern Right Whale and Humpback Whales in western Victoria with sightings reported from early May through to late October.

Summary of key dates in 2017

Mandy extends thanks to all the whale watch volunteers and data contributors who provided information to support the Southern Right Whale research program in 2017.

Results from the 2017 photo-ID matching for the  South East Australian Photo Identification Catalogue (SEA SRW PIC) project. 

The photo-identification research program recorded seven different nursing females in south west Victoria this year, along with a number of single (or unaccompanied) whales. Four of the nursing females are re-sights from previous years while three are new to the photo-ID catalogue. A number of the unaccompanied whales seen at Logans beach were sub-adults and unusually, there was extended interaction over days and weeks observed between these young whales and the nursing females and their calves. Separate socially active groups of adults were also observed on numerous days at both Logans Beach and around Portland.

Summary

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) project 

This year the DELWP Southern Right Whale photo-identification research program incorporated the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or 'drones'. It is hoped that this technology can improve our understanding of calf survivorship in SE Australia. Ninety calves have been recorded at Logans Beach since the 1980’s but it is not known what happens to these calves once they leave. In the past I have not been able to track calves born at Logans Beach as they are generally too small for their callosity patterns to be photographed clearly from aircraft.  

12 of the 28 new whales identified this year were photographed during over a 2-day period. This pilot project focussed on calf identification and produced high quality images with incredible efficiency. The project has improved our understanding of the mechanisms and rate of change in the appearance of calf callosity patterns in the first months of life. It is hoped this research will continue during 2018.  


While drones are not normally allowed within 500 meters of whales, this year DELWP was granted a research permit to operate drones closer to whales. The research was carried out under strict conditions around the proximity and amount of time that the drones were allowed near the whales.

Southern Right Whale calf survival, recruitment and movement at Logans Beach

Southern Right Whale research project 2017

Calf of a new female named 'Left Bar' at Logans Beach. Image taken with RPAS as part of the calf survival recruitment study. Callosity patterns (white markings) are analysed to identify individual whales - Image: Southern Right Whale Research Project.

Citizen Science

2017 was a hugely successful year for citizens science contributions to the SE Australian SRW Photo-identification research project. Twenty five members of the whale watching community from Victoria, South Australia and NSW provided data on 56 sighting events. This data resulted in 16 new whales for the catalogue plus 36 documented sightings of 18 of the 32 new whales identified.

Weekly sightings 2017 

These are confirmed reports from Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP), Mandy Watson, Senior Biodiversity Officer, Warrnambool.

Confirmed whale sightings to 10 May 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 10 May 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 26 May 2017

* All Logan's Beach sightings have involved the same adult whale.

Confirmed whale sightings to 2 June 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 9 June 2017

The 2017 breeding season in SW Victoria has officially started with the arrival of two calves at Logans Beach last weekend (3 & 4 June). Both mother:calf pairs seem to have settled into the nursery where it is hoped they remain for the season.

Mandy Watson (DELWP) has confirmed that one of these pairs is a Logans Beach regular female known as 'Big Lips' and her newborn calf. Big Lips has been previously recorded 7 times at Logans beach and is known to have produced at least 6 calves here. Work on identifying the other female is underway to see if she is known to the photo-ID catalogue or is a new whale.

Confirmed whale sightings to 16 June 2017

It's been another big week for whales in Victoria with daily sightings of the 2 Southern Right Whale cow calf pairs at Logans Beach plus sightings of other Southern Right whales at Lorne and Portland.

With the help of local photographers, Mandy has been able to identify two individual whales at Logans Beach.  One female being ‘Big Lips’ and the second female identified as 'Thin Lips'. Both 'Big Lips' and 'Thin Lips' were at Logans Beach with calves in 2013. This is interesting because the normal calving interval is 3 years not 4. 2013 was a big year for calves at Logans Beach; 5 were recorded that year. It is possible that more females and calves could arrive at Logans Beach this season.

There has also been a big spike in the number of Humpback Whales seen along the coast this past week. These whales are all headed up the east coast as part of the annual Humpback Whale migration from Antarctic waters to the waters of northern Queensland.

SRW = Southern Right Whale 
HBW = Humpback Whale 
CC = Cow:Calf pair 

Confirmed whale sightings to 22 June 2017

Mandy Watson has advised that she has received anecdotal reports of many more Humpback whales than what is reported below, as well as reports of unidentified species. Unfortunately these cannot be entered into the sightings database unless they are confirmed so please send images to Mandy where possible.

Below is a list of confirmed sightings reports over the past week:

Confirmed whale sightings to 30 June 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 7 July 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 14 July 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 21 July 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 28 July 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 4 August 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 11 August 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 18 August 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 25 August 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 8 September 2017

In late August 2017 new research commenced on Southern Right Whale calf survival, recruitment and movement at Logans Beach  

Confirmed whale sightings to 15 September 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 22 September 2017
Confirmed whale sightings to 23 September to 26 October 2017

The Southern Right Whale season along the Victorian is considered over for 2017.

2017 summary

2018 whale sightings

Summary of 2018 season

Report adapted from information provided by Mandy Watson | Natural Environment Programs Officer | Barwon South West, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Victoria.

The focus for the 2018 whale season has been two classes of Southern Right Whales;

Cow:calf pairs, which are normally resident throughout the season and generally considered to belong to the SE Australian population. The focus for research tends to be on Cow:calf pairs as they form the basis from which the species is recovering in our region.  

Unaccompanied adults, which are highly mobile and often engaged in socialising and mating. These whales are considered to be using the Victorian coast as migratory corridor. They may move long distances during the season into other state water such as NSW, SA and Tasmania and their movements tend to be in a westward direction as the season progresses.

Key dates

Particularly notable this season was the number of Southern Right Whales reported around Portland and west to Yambuk throughout the season including 4 cow:calf pairs and a group of socially active and mating whales. This represents a bit of a geographic shift from previous seasons and hopefully may be indicative of signs of recovery of the species into what was historically a very important area for the species.

Other locations where Southern Right Whale sightings were confirmed this year include; Port Fairy, Apollo Bay, Anglesea, Lorne, Torquay, Ocean Grove, Cape Schanck, Portsea, Phillip Island, Lakes Entrance and  and Lake Tyers. Only one of these sightings was of a cow:calf pair - the Lake Tyers sighting, the other sightings were all of unaccompanied adults.

Photo ID 2018

Through photo-identification efforts of citizen scientists and DELWP researchers 5 cow:calf pairs has so far been identified from the 2018 season. All but one of these pairs were residing in waters west of Port Fairy. Only one pair resided at Logans Beach this year. Final results of photo-identification research will be available after December once all images have been processed and matched.

This year the DELWP Southern Right Whale photo-identification research program continued investigations into identification of calves using remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or 'drones'. Using this technology, photo-identifications on 10 individual whales (including 5 calves) were obtained over two field days. While drones are not normally allowed within 500 meters of whales, DELWP holds a research permit to operate drones closer to whales. The research was carried out under strict conditions around the proximity and amount of time that the drones were allowed near the whales.

Entanglements

DELWP carried out a 4-day rescue operation of a Southern Right Whale found entangled in rock lobster pot ropes near Portland in August. This whale was successfully rescued but sadly the following month another Southern Right Whale became entangled in rock lobster pot ropes off Apollo Bay and despite aerial searches conducted over 4 days this whale was not re-sighted in Victoria.  

Southern Right Whale entangled 2018 near Apollo Bay Image: Willie Bedford
Southern Right Whale entangled in fishing equipment in waters off Marengo, near Apollo Bay, 10 September 2018. Image: Willie Bedford 

 

Deakin University volunteer Southern Right Whale program 2018

Volunteers from Deakin University, Warrnambool co-ordinated whale watching activities at Logan’s Beach in 2018. Speakers Jess Coxon and Madi O’Brien talk about the program to an audience at Warrnambool’s ‘Small things festival’.

 

Thank you to contributors

Mandy Watson acknowledges the efforts from all whale watch volunteers and data contributors who provided information to support the Southern Right Whale research program this year.

Weekly sightings 2018

Confirmed reports from Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP), Mandy Watson, Senior Biodiversity Officer, Warrnambool.

Confirmed whale sightings to 15 June 2018
Confirmed whale sightings received by DELWP to 22 June 2018

Photographs taken by a recently trained citizen scientist have enabled the identification of a whale seen at Logans Beach on 19th, 21st & 22nd June 2018 to be one of the regular breeding females. This whale, named 'Odd Lips' for her uneven lip callosities (seen in the image below taken on 13 Aug 2009). This female  was first photographed with a calf in 2009 and again in 2014. She is expected to calve again in the coming days and remain in the region for the next 3 - 4 months.

Southern Right Whale; Source: Mandy Watson, DELWP
Image of Southern Right Whale (named 'Odd lips') taken at Tyrendarra 13 Aug 2009. Source: Mandy Watson, DELWP.
Confirmed whale sightings to 29 June 2018

The first Southern Right Whale calf of the season was confirmed at Portland after receiving some wonderful photos from local photographers.


28 June Logans Beach 1 x Southern Right Whale
28 June Portland 3 x Southern Right Whale

Confirmed whale sightings to 6 July 2018

 

Confirmed whale sightings to 13 July 2018

The breeding female known as 'Odd Lips' has been seen around the South-west coast for weeks has finally been spotted at Logans Beach with a calf. This is the first recorded calf at Logans Beach this season.

It’s also been a wonderful week for whale watchers in Portland, with a very active Southern Right Whale mother and calf spotted every day!. 

Confirmed whale sightings to 20 July 2018
Confirmed whale sightings to 27 July 2018

There was also a thrill for whale watchers on Phillip Island with a pod of Killer Whales sighted multiple times on 20 July. 

Confirmed whale sightings to 3 August 2018
Confirmed whale sightings to 10 August 2018 
Confirmed whale sightings to 24 August 2018

DELWP successfully disentangled a Southern Right Whale at Portland on the 12th August. During the search for the entangled whale, flights allowed DELWP staff to sight numerous Southern Right Whales around the Portland area between the 9th and the 12th of August, including four cow-calf pairs.

Confirmed whale sightings to 7 September 2018
Confirmed whale sightings to 21 September 2018

Unfortunately DELWP spent most of the week ending 14 September searching for an entangled whale which was seen near Apollo Bay on the evening of Monday 10th. Despite extensive air searches along the entire Victorian coast over 4 days, the whale has not been re-located. DELWP have notified colleagues interstate and hope that the whale will be sighted again somewhere before it departs on it's southward migration. If you see an entangled whale or any whale that appears to have rope markings on it's body please call the Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline on 1300 136 017.8 September Logans Beach 2 x SRW (cow:calf pair)

2018 Summary

If you wish to contribute sightings reports or images to the DELWP whale research program please email: southern.r.whales@delwp.vic.gov.au   This data once validated will be added to the department's official fauna and flora database. If you would like your sighting to be recorded in the database please ensure you provide the following information;

References

 

 

 

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