Fine-scale habitat use and movements of humpback whales in urbanised near-shore waters

Cetacean permit application C2011-0004
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, July 2011

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About the application

The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities 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 humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) in Commonwealth waters off the Gold Coast, from South Stradbroke Island to Kirra, Queensland. The applicant is seeking to contribute to the knowledge on humpback whales in near-shore coastal waters and investigate the behaviours of humpback whales during migration.

The sampling procedure employed by this research will involve underwater video recording using National Geographic's Crittercam to document the behaviour of individuals and allow for the establishment of short term tracks by collecting speed, depth, temperature and direction data. Additionally, individuals will be satellite tagged to monitor stress affected movement patterns and generate long term tracks. There are two potential methods to deploy the satellite tags: a standard dart tag deployment and a new, non-invasive technique using natural glue developed from barnacles. The satellite tags will complement the tracks generated with the Crittercam.

Whale flakes will be collected to allow for skin biopsy. The whale skin biopsy samples will supplement the track information, being sent to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for analyses and identification of health status (stress indicator). Sex and age determination as well as individual identification will be undertaken using genetics to supplement the Crittercam and survey information. The length of telomeres in chromosomes will be analysed to determine age and the chromosomes to determine sex. Stable isotopes will be used to investigate food sources and possible links with size, age and sex.

The gathered information on humpback whale distribution and behaviour in the Gold Coast region will provide a base for recommendations for whale conservation and management strategies. The information will be used by relevant management bodies in the Gold Coast region to maintain the conservation value of this unique habitat for the whales.

The permit requested is for a two year period to allow continuation of data collection. This permit will allow the applicant to interfere with (tag, biopsy and photograph for identification purposes) a maximum of 35 humpback whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary over two years.

In accordance with the provisions of section 237(3b) of the EPBC Act, you are invited to comment on this proposal before COB Friday 22 July 2011.

Comments can be sent by email to EPBC.permits@environment.gov.au or in writing to:

The Director
Cetacean Conservation Management Section
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601