Each year we cannot wait for the moment when our East Australian Humpback Whales swim past the Tasmanian coast as they migrate between their sub-tropical breeding grounds and their Antarctic feeding grounds. Relatively little research has been done outside of these breeding and feeding areas, that’s why we joined forces with our marine biologist friend Dr Mads (Maddie Brasier, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies UTAS) and we started the Tasmania Fluke Project.
This project is all about investigating the importance of Tasmania to the East Australian Humpback Whales by collecting ‘fluke’ images. The fluke is the underside of the whale’s tail that is raised above the water as the whale dives, tail slaps or throws the peduncle. Each fluke is unique in its markings, scars, and trailing edge which means they can be used to identify individual whales, a bit like our fingerprints.
Fluke identification is a non-invasive scientific method that has been the basis of whale research since the 1970s. By matching our Tasmanian flukes, we can start to understand how long individual whales are spending in Tasmanian waters and if individual whales are returning to Tasmania each year. We are also comparing them to an international dataset at Happywhale.com which can help us understand transit times and migration routes as they travel between the poles and the sub tropics.
It has been amazing to see an incredible number of Humpback Whales off the Tasmanian coastline this year. We’ve been seeing whales on every trip for nearly two months now. But it has not been this way for some time. Just 60 years ago the Humpback Whale population was reduced to less than 1000 individuals! However, since the ban on commercial whaling, Humpback Whale numbers have been increasing and could be approaching >40,000 Whales in the next few years (Noad et al. 2019).
Despite this increase, Whales and other marine life are still threatened by human activities and our impact on the ocean, including entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, boat collisions / vessel strikes, plastic ingestion, chemical pollution and climate induced ecosystem change.
We hope that the Tasmania Fluke Project can help raise awareness about the importance of Tasmania to the east Australian Humpback Whale population as a migratory stopover.
You can help by sending any fluke images you would like to contribute to Dr Mads (firstname.lastname@example.org or @madsbrasier on Instagram), by reporting any sightings of entangled Whales to the Tasmanian Whale hotline (0427 942 537) and of course by actively supporting Ocean conservation.
Here are some of the easiest ways to help the Whales and our Oceans:
- Support responsible whale watching companies
- Abide by national whale watching guidelines when you are on the water
- Eat less seafood and only eat seafood from sustainable sources (check out the sustainable seafood guide)
- Reduce your plastic use and keep the Seas clean by disposing of rubbish responsibly
- Help clean up our beaches and waterways
Hope you have been enjoying the Whales this season, if you haven’t seen them yet, make sure you get out there (you can book your tickets here).
If you’d like to stay up to date with the sightings that we’ve had and the fluke images that have been captured along the Tasmanian East coast, check out our project page on ‘Happywhale’ at https://happywhale.com/org/878.