The krill-rich waters of the Perth Canyon, about 22 kilometres west of Rottnest Island, are an autumn feeding ground for blue whales. For recreational whale watchers lucky enough to sight these elusive creatures, the experience is awesome.
Blue whales are the largest creatures known to have existed on the planet, reaching up to about 30 metres in length and weighing up to 200 tonnes.
Once abundant, blue whales were hunted to near extinction, but have been globally protected since 1966. They are classified as endangered and populations are down to a fraction of what they were prior to commercial whaling, according to Edith Cowan University’s Associate Professor Chandra Salgado Kent.
“Last season, we saw more blue whales visiting our coastline earlier than in previous years but we don’t know why.
“This makes long-term monitoring critical so we can detect whether this is related to serious impacts such as global warming, over-fishing and dwindling food sources.”
Associate Professor Salgado Kent is Research Committee Chair of Geographe Marine Research and Director of Oceans Blueprint.
She and her colleague Mr Chris Burton, Director of Western Whale Research, formed the Southwest Whale Ecology Study (SouWEST) over a decade ago, bringing together technology, a team of scientists and the community to monitor whale movements, numbers, behaviour, and even whale song.
“We work with researchers, students and citizen scientists (locals and volunteers trained on site) to regularly gather information on whale sightings, marrying academic analysis with grass-roots field work,” said Chandra.
Over the past decade, the collaborative program has integrated the research expertise of Western Whale Research, Oceans Blueprint, and the community outreach and education experience of Eco Gecko Environment and Design.
Chandra was previously based at the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) at Curtin University, which has been a significant contributor.
“The collaborative project inspired the formation of the new charity organisation, Geographe Marine Research (GMR) which has a CSIRO approved research committee.
“Conveying this scientific knowledge to provide the information to governments and industry so that they can act faster and do more to mitigate impacts is an important part of our role as researchers.
“Likewise, supporting and educating the community to look after the environment, and help these beautiful marine mammals.”
GMR and SouWEST would love more volunteers to sign up and help as they are happy to train people up.
Recreational whale watchers are reminded of the legal requirement to stay 300 m away from the head and tail of whales and 100 m from either side. People with drones must not disturb whales. For information, visit: https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/marine/marine-wildlife/whale-watching
To sign up as a volunteer or to find out more about GMR, visit:
or for SouWest.org: https://souwest.org/
Both organisations are connected.