Whale Biology – A Window into Our Oceans
Whales are the largest creatures on the planet, yet, like so many other fish, birds, and seals, they depend on tiny animals at the bottom of the oceans’ food chain to survive – krill. Krill, in turn, are the most plentiful protein source on the planet, and their abundance is tied to ocean health at a primary level – a system that in fact echoes global ecosystem stability. In other words, an ocean full of krill is a biologically stable ocean, and that means our world is coping with natural and human initiated climate changes. The question is, how do we monitor this vital system?
Our goal at CWR is to understand the health of our oceans by monitoring and protecting the population health of the largest animals on the planet – the great whales. Conserving their critical habitats ensures that the ocean, and indeed the planet, remains in good health.
CWR began with a humpback whale population measuring program in the Dampier Archipelago in 1990 and from research in the Kimberley, CWR guided the state government in the establishment of a new marine park for humpback whale calving/breeding grounds. The Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park is now in place in the Kimberley protecting vital calving/breeding grounds of the west coast humpback whale population. CWR research work expanded to include pygmy blue whales in 1999 in the Perth Canyon. This important feeding area for pygmy blue whales is now protected by the Perth Canyon Commonwealth Marine Reserve.
Based on RV Whale Song, CWR’s scientists conduct research all around Australia and into the Southern Ocean.
A mother and calf humpback whale pair rest in the calm waters of Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park in the Kimberley. Photo: Micheline Jenner.
Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) raise their huge strong flukes in a deep dive or sounding dive reaching depths of 3 km for up to 2 hours duration. At depth, they feed on squid which they “sound to death” with the powerful clicks of their echolocation.
Sometimes white ring-shaped scars from the squid tentacle suckers remain on the distinctively boxy head of these fascinating sperm whales. The dark wrinkled skin is mainly dusky grey-brown, long strips of which, peel off their bodies while swimming.
The broad, triangular-shaped dark tail flukes often have a ragged trailing edge with a deep notch, seen as the flukes are thrown vertically upon commencement of a sounding dive.
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