Scientific research on cetaceans, primarily humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae)

Cetacean permit application C2010-0002
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 16 July 2010


About the application

The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has received an application for a permit to interfere with cetaceans under Part 13, section 237 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

This application is for a permit to conduct scientific research on cetaceans, primarily humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae), in Commonwealth waters off the Sunshine Coast from Noosa to Maroochydore, Qld. The applicant is seeking to expand a previous pilot study conducted on the behavioural responses of humpback whales to seismic airgun noise in 2009 in order to look at better mitigation procedures for the oil and gas industry to prevent them adversely affecting baleen whales.

The sampling procedure employed by this research will involve pre-exposure observations of the whales present in the area for at least 60 minutes and following this, providing no whales are within 500m of the airgun vessel, the airgun will either start firing every 10 secs (active trial) or be towed behind the vessel without firing (silent control). The vessel will either head east out to sea across the migratory path, or north, into the direction of the migratory stream, for 60 minutes. If the vessel heads north, it is important to note that it will not be steered directly at any whales. It will be 3 or 4 km out to sea and so allow plenty of room either side of its path for whales to pass. All whales in the area are under constant surveillance by the land-based observers as well as two dedicated whale observers on the source vessel. If any whales come within 100m of the airgun, the airgun will be shut down.

The permit requested will cover a two year period to allow continuation of data collection. This permit will allow the applicant to interfere with (tag, biopsy, photograph for identification purposes and expose to noise from an airgun) a maximum of 675 humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Australian Whale Sanctuary over two years, which is 4.5% of the current estimated population of approximately 15,000.

In accordance with the provisions of section 237(3b) of the EPBC Act, you are invited to comment on this proposal before COB 30 July 2010. Comments can be sent by email to or in writing to:

The Director
Cetacean Policy and Management Section
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601