The Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study
The Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study (GABRWS) is committed to researching the endangered and migratory southern right whale species for conservation management. Our research includes population biology, photo identification and underwater acoustics at Head of Bight and Fowlers Bay in the Great Australian Bight, South Australia. 2019 will mark the 29th year of long-term population monitoring at Australia's largest southern right whale aggregation ground, Head of Bight. The study addresses the objectives of the Conservation Management Plan for the Southern Right Whale 2011-2021 and outputs are distributed to managers, industry and the public.
Assess southern right whale relative abundance, distribution and life histories.
Investigate movement and connectivity of southern right whales across coastal aggregation grounds in Australia.
Determine the vocal repertoire of southern right whales and use passive acoustic monitoring to assess distribution and movement patterns outside of known aggregation areas.
SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALES
Southern right whales are large, baleen whales that do not have a dorsal fin, unlike most of their balaenopterid cousins. They have a thick layer of blubber covering their bodies, and adults can reach a maximum length of 18 metres and weigh 80 tonnes, with females generally 1-2m larger than males. Whales reach sexual maturity at an average of 7-9 years of age.
Southern right whales are listed as an endangered and migratory species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Southern right whales are not monogomous and can mate with many partners. On average, a female southern right whale will calve every three to four years.
On the Australian coast, southern right whales are known to use widely separated coastal areas within a season, indicating substantial coast-wide movement.
Southern right whales are monitored annually at Head of Bight and Fowlers Bay through daily census of the aggregation area, to provide information on population trends over time.
Southern right whales have unique callosity patterns that enable us to identify individuals over time to study their life histories, movement and site use. This data provides information for population recovery assessment.
Passive acoustic monitoring of southern right whale calls is used to determine the vocal repertoire of the species, characterise their vocalisations, establish the social context associated with call types, and determine the distribution and movement of southern right whales in southern Australian waters.
Claire Charlton is a marine biologist specialising in cetacean population biology and underwater noise. Claire has co-investigated the long term Southern Right Whale Population Census and Photo Identification Study at Head of Bight since 2009, and is the Project Leader of the GABRWS. Claire has 10 years’ experience in roles with South Australian State Government and private consultancies, undertaking research and environmental impact assessments.
A/Prof. robert mccauley
Associate Professor Rob McCauley has been working in the field of bioacoustics and impacts of sound on marine fauna for over 30 years. He is currently based at Curtin University with the Centre for Marine Science and Technology. Rob has been involved with the GABRWS since 2016 .
Research Scientist, Acoustics Lead
Rhianne Ward is a marine biologist specialising in underwater acoustics and cetacean communication. Rhianne is completing a PhD on great whale vocalisations in southern Australian waters, including the first summary of southern right whale vocalisations in Australian waters. Rhianne became involved in the Southern Right Whale Population Census and Photo ID study at Head of Bight in 2013, and is now a research scientist and the acoustics lead of the GABRWS.
Alice Morrison is a research assistant and field technician from Waikato University in New Zealand. Assisting on several cetacean surveys over the last six years throughout New Zealand and Australia, she has been in the field for the GABRWS as a research scientist since 2016. Alice is interested in population and migration, hoping to find links with New Zealand populations through further research, photo identification and collaboration.
Stephen Burnell is the project founder of the long-term Southern Right Whale Population Census and Photo Identification Study at Head of Bight, the company director of Eubalaena Pty Ltd and an honorary associate of the South Australian Museum. Steve pioneered the southern right whale research at Head of Bight in 1991 which formed the basis of his PhD on southern right whale population biology in southern Australia. Steve has over 25 years’ experience in marine mammal biology and has expertise in data management and programming, strategic business planning and management.
Olivia Marsh is an environmental and marine scientist specialising in cetacean population biology. Olivia became involved with the GABRWS in 2018, working as a research assistant in the field and in Perth. Olivia is furthering her studies at Flinders University, investigating emerging calving grounds of the southern right whale species, and looking at connectivity between southern right whale populations along the southern Australian coastline.
Annie Charlton is a GIS consultant and provides invaluable support to the GAB Right Whale Study Team. Annie specialists in spatial mapping, species distribution and density plots. Annie has also participated in field work and logistics for the GABRWS since 2014.
collaborators & Sponsors
- South Australian Museum
- Eubalaena Pty. Ltd.
- Western Australian Museum
- Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Curtin Univerisity
- Murdoch University
- South Australian Whale Centre
- Murphy Oil Corporation
- Karoon Energy
- Yalata Aboriginal Community
- Aboriginal Lands Trust
- EP Cruises - Fowlers Bay Whale Tours
- Fowlers Bay Eco Park
- Australian Antarctic Division, Australian Marine Mammal Centre
- South Australian Deptartment of Environment, Water and Natural Resources
- Great Australian Bight Commonwealth Marine Reserve
Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study
Curtin University, Kent Street, Bentley WA 6102
Head of Bight Whale Interpretive Centre, Eyre Highway, Nullabor SA 5690
Claire Charlton - Project Lead
CMST, Curtin University
M - (+61) 474 854 454
Rhianne Ward - Research Scientist, Acoustics Lead
CMST, Curtin University
M - (+61) 400 737 545