Behavioural Response Study with Australian humpback whales and seismic air guns, Sunshine Coast Region, QLD

Cetacean permit application C2011-0005
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, July 2011


About the application

The Department of the 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 Sunshine Coast, QLD. The applicant is seeking to undertake the next phase of a study conducted on the behavioural responses of humpback whales to seismic air gun noise in 2010. This phase aims to determine the reaction of whales to a 'ramp-up' in seismic noise , a technique used by the oil and gas industry to mitigate against injuring whales that are close to their air gun arrays when the array first starts firing.

The sampling procedure employed by this research will involve pre-exposure observations of whales present in the area for at least 60 minutes and following this, providing no whales are within 500m of the air gun vessel, the air gun array will either start firing, gradually building up to a maximum sound capacity of 515 cui (ramp-up trial); or fire with the 155 or 515 cui array ('hard-start' trial); or be towed behind the vessel without firing (silent control). The vessel will travel east out to sea across the migratory path for 60 minutes. All whales in the area will be under constant surveillance by land-based observers as well as four dedicated whale observers on the source vessel. If any whales come within 100m of the source vessel, the air gun will be shut down.

The permit requested will cover one sampling season. This permit will allow the applicant to interfere with (tag, biopsy, photograph for identification purposes and expose to noise from an air gun array) a maximum of 405 humpback whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

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 or in writing to:

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