WhaleSong II off Dampier

R/V WhaleSong II – August 2006

S 21° 54.6′ E 113° 58.1′ (MAP)

Aerial survey track planned to coincide with shipboard surveys in an area off Dampier never examined before.

Aerial survey track planned to coincide with shipboard surveys in an area off Dampier never examined before.


WhaleSong II’s first commission was to go back to an area off Dampier where our Australian research began over 17 years ago. Santos Ltd. was exploring an area near the continental shelf edge and the Department of Environment and Heritage was concerned about the timing of the survey in relation to the peak of the northbound humpback whale migration. Based on our studies off NW Cape, CWR advised both groups that the seismic survey should end before July 10th in order to minimize any potential for impact.

However, we also commented that we had no knowledge of the position of the migratory path this far off-shore at that latitude. Santos was keen to help determine this so, together with Dr. Rob McCauley and his team at Curtin University, we began a combined aerial, acoustic and vessel based monitoring programme designed not only to determine the position of the northern migratory path in relation to the Santos lease, but to also, at Santos’ suggestion, directly measure the response of migrating humpback whales to an operating seismic vessel.

The WhaleSong II observer team in action off the continental shelf near Dampier. Photo - Curt Jenner

The WhaleSong II observer team in action off the continental shelf near Dampier. Photo - Curt Jenner

This is one of the burning questions in the management of human activities in relation to cetaceans – how exactly are whales affected by an operating seismic vessel? Unfortunately we were not to discover this during this study since a combination of the seismic survey being non-central to the migratory path and its timing planned to be prior to the peak, resulted in too few whales to base any conclusions on.

This type of study will no doubt be repeated over upcoming years as we attempt to determine whether whales can co-exist with man’s need for oil.

A curious humpback whale examines the research team. Photo - Micheline Jenner

A curious humpback whale examines the research team. Photo - Micheline Jenner

Centre for Whale Research

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