SouWEST is working with the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) at Curtin University to run a baleen whale theodolite-tracking program in Geographe Bay. CMST also collects and analyses acoustical data collected in the bay, investigating the vocalisations of blue and humpback whales migrating through the area.
Founded in 1985, CMST comprises a multi-skilled group of scientists and engineers committed to the development of technical ocean-related skills in Australia. The Centre has earned a reputation as a high quality marine technology research and development facility responsive to industry and government needs. CMST’s expertise fits into four major categories: Hydrodynamics, Underwater Acoustics, Marine Ecology and Stereoscopic Imaging.
The Centre has been conducting marine mammal research for over fifteen years. Their research focuses on the distribution, abundance, and dynamics of marine mammals occurring along the coasts of Australia. CMST and its collaborators investigate the nature of changes in aspects such as ecology, behaviour, and vocalization from three broad groups of marine mammals, pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), dolphins, and whales, in order to understand the causes for these changes. In addition to it’s work with SouWEST, some of the many CMST marine mammal projects are described below:
Blue Whale Research
Blue whales are one of several species that fall under international protection (IUCN). The current status of the populations is unclear, since these animals are inherently difficult to study because of their low numbers, and because they tend to occur off-shore. Various projects are underway to obtain a greater understanding of blue whale ecology, behaviour, and current status. Some of these include:
The use of passive acoustics as a censusing tool for blue whales along the Western Australian continental shelf – Abundance and distribution assessment based on passive acoustic censusing – in collaboration with the Centre for Whale Research, Western Whale Research, and WA Museum.
Vocal behaviour of blue whales on a feeding ground off the coast of Western Australia – Blue whale call type and its relationship to krill distribution and abundance, and myctophid fish chorus behaviour in the Perth Canyon, Western Australia.
Localisation of calling blue whales using acoustic arrays – a novel technique for identifying migration routes and timing along Australian continental shelf waters – A multi-year project using passive acoustic arrays distributed widely throughout Australia’s continental shelf waters.
Humpback Whale Research
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from Antarctica along the Australian coast. They have had a long history of exploitation from the whaling industry. Although the population has been increasing steadily since the ban on whaling, humpback whales continue to face threats, many of which are introduced by human activity. Several projects are underway with the aim of understanding the migration of humpback whales, their status, and the level of anthropogenic impacts. Some of these projects include:
Patterns in distribution, abundance, and behaviour of humpback whales migrating past North West Cape, Western Australia – A long term project using aerial and boat based platforms for assessing migratory behaviour across the shelf edge. This project is led by the Centre for Whale Research (WA), Inc.
The use of passive acoustics as a censusing tool for humpback whales along the Western Australian continental shelf – Abundance and distribution assessment based on passive acoustic censusing.
Response of humpback whales to airgun operation – An assessment of humpback whale response to airgun noise for which current seismic operation standards are based – a project in association with the Centre for Whale Research (WA), Inc.
Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.) are common, occurring in all oceans across the world. Because they regularly occur within such close proximity to human activity, they have a high likelihood of experiencing impacts from pollution, including chemical and physical (such as noise) pollution introduced within the marine environment at major ports and industry sites. Various projects are underway with the aim of answering some of the key questions regarding the ecology of bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia, and potential impacts of high human activity. These include:
Use of the Swan River by resident bottlenose dolphins – Spatial and temporal patterns in distribution, abundance, and behaviour of bottlenose dolphins in the Swan River, Western Australia. This project is conducted in collaboration with Murdoch University and the Swan River Trust.
Assessment of temporal and spatial patterns in habitat use of bottlenose dolphins in Koombana Bay, Western Australia – Habitat use by bottlenose dolphins in Koombana Bay, Western Australia. This project was supported by and carried out in association with the Dolphin Discovery Centre, Bunbury.
Pinniped (Seals and Sea Lions) Research
The Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) is an endemic species, restricted to southern and southwestern Australia. The species suffered population decline from commercial harvesting during the 19th and early 20th century. There are current and ongoing pressures which may be responsible for its inability to recover. To mitigate impacts, a comprehensive understanding of behaviour and population dynamics is needed. A number of projects are underway with the aim of answering key questions regarding the ecology of Australian sea lions in Western Australia, and potential impacts of high human activity. These include:
Assessment of human disturbance to Australian sea lions within the Perth Metropolitan Area – An assessment of the effectiveness of a sanctuary zone on Carnac Island. This project is supported by the WA Department of Environment and Conservation.
Diet assessment of Australian sea lions on the west coast of Australia – Assessment and standardisation of near-infrared spectroscopy for use in diet assessment through a study on captive sea lions. This project is run in association with and supported by the WA Dept. of Fisheries.
Population parameters of Australian sea lions on the west coast of Australia – Age assessment of Australian sea lions through histological analysis of tooth growth layers. This project is being conducted and led by the WA Dept. of Fisheries.
CMST works in close cooperation with Curtin’s Department of Imaging and Applied Physics, Department of Applied Geology, Remote Sensing Group, Aquatic Science Group, and the Department of Environmental Biology, plus WA:ERA, IMOS, the Australian Maritime College, and many others. The Spatial Sciences department has kindly loaned one of its Topcon Theodolites for the study of whale movements in Geographe Bay.