Wardell flying instructor John Gardon, of Flight North and the Ballina Ultralight Flying Club, grabbed this shot yesterday (Friday, October 30, 2014) of a pod of humpback whales having a frolic during as they migrate south.
Wardell flying instructor John Gardon, of Flight North and the Ballina Ultralight Flying Club, grabbed this shot yesterday (Friday, October 30, 2014) of a pod of humpback whales having a frolic during as they migrate south. John Gardon

"Citizen scientists" saving whales with their cameras

SNAPPING a photo of a humpback whale off Byron Bay could help scientists better understand the marine mammal.

Southern Cross University Masters student Peta Beeman and Professor Peter Harrison, director of the university's Marine Ecology Research Centre, have put together a catalogue of more than 800 whales which have been identified through photographs.

Of those, 450 whales were identified from photos taken by "citizen scientists" from the Whitsunday Islands to Southern Tasmania.

Ms Beeman said the aim of the East Coast Whale Watch Catalogue was to collate and analyse data from whale fluke photographs and encourage input from locals, tourists and tourism operators.

"Many people are going out on boats to watch the whales and are taking scientifically useful photos of the tail flukes," she said.

"These 'citizen scientists' are collecting data at many points along the whale migration path which is providing valuable information about travel speeds and migration patterns that can be incorporated into a long-term dataset."

Dr Daniel Burns said the fluke-matching work was significant to better understand whale behaviour.

"We found some adult males travelling from pod to pod and milling around in the Byron and Ballina area for sometimes days at a time," he said.

"But we need more evidence to determine how this fits into the broader migration picture."

Twelve whales were seen on more than one occasion, while another three were photographed at different points along the migration path in the one season.

The humpback whales are identified by the unique pigmentation patterns on the underside of the tail fluke that enables individual whales to be identified using the Fluke Matcher software developed by researchers from the university's Marine Ecology Research Centre and the University of Newcastle.



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