Researchers from the Blue Whale Study are travelling on Spirit of Tasmania day sailings to observe blue whales along the ships’ route during the peak of the blue whale feeding season.
Dr Pete Gill, the CEO and senior research scientist of the Blue Whale Study, said the organisation had been studying pygmy blue whales in their summer feeding area between western Tasmania and the Great Australian Bight since 1998.
“Pygmy blues do not migrate south to the Antarctic but gather in temperate feeding areas such as the Bonney Upwelling west of Bass Strait. Their prey is krill, small nutritious crustaceans that swarm in millions,” he said.
“We have had reports of blue whales in Bass Strait over the years, but next to nothing is known about the significance of Bass Strait to blue whales, although we know that blue whales from three separate populations are known to occur in it.”
Dr Gill said it was difficult for a small organisation like Blue Whale Study to cover the huge area where blue whales might be found off south-east Australia, and until now Bass Strait had been out of reach.
“Having an observer on board Spirit of Tasmania has given us an opportunity to sample along the ship’s route during the peak of the blue whale feeding season,” he said.
“So far our observer, Rebecca Hall, has seen no blue whales, although she has sighted many dolphins and what was either a Sei or a Bryde’s whale, both species that are little understood.
“The fact that she has sighted no blue whales yet is not surprising, as we have not sighted them in the Bonney Upwelling, because upwelling conditions this year have not favoured the aggregations of krill upon which blue whales feed.
“Next year could be a totally different story.”
Dr Gill said he was very grateful for the opportunity to conduct these regular surveys through Bass Strait, a well-known waterway that still held many mysteries, not least its significance to endangered blue whales.
Spirit of Tasmania CEO Bernard Dwyer said the company was pleased to be supporting this important environmental project work.
“The crew are happy to be travelling with observer Rebecca Hall who travels on the bridge which provides her with the best vantage point to see the whales,” he said.
“Our captains, crew and passengers are in a great position to see up close the remarkable marine and bird life in Bass Strait.
“Both passengers and crew are interested in how the project is going and to learn more about the conservation efforts to protect these amazing animals.”
Stock image from Thomas Kelley @unsplash.