Geographe Marine Research to support whale research projects in Geographe Bay

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley with Geographe Marine Research director Ian Wiese, reearch committee associate professor Chandra Salgado Kent, chair Frank Eckler, director Chris Burton and Vasse MLA Libby Mettam.
City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley with Geographe Marine Research director Ian Wiese, reearch committee associate professor Chandra Salgado Kent, chair Frank Eckler, director Chris Burton and Vasse MLA Libby Mettam.

Whale researchers and volunteers have established a not-for-profit organisation to support targeted research projects on the southern whale migration through Geographe Bay.

The new company Geographe Marine Research (GMR) has been named a CSIRO Approved Research Institute which will work to attract corporate sponsorship and public donations to fund the research projects.

Local volunteers and researchers associated with GMR have spent 20,000 hours since 2004 collecting and analysing observation data along with photo and video identification.

Humpback whales splashing about Geographe Bay.

GMR director Chris Burton has been the director of Western Whale Research for 18 years, taking a lead role in organising volunteer whale watchers, data collection and analysis.

He said GMR was the way forward to harness resources that would enable more studies and protection for whales along the Western Australian coast.

"Geographe Bay now has four baleen whale species passing through every year including blue, southern right, humpback and minke whales during their southern migration from July to December," he said.

"Our monitoring indicates whale numbers along our southwest coast are recovering since whale hunting days.

"Humpbacks have risen from around 700 in 2005 to 3,500 spotted in 2020. Blue and southern rights numbers are variable, ranging from 100 to 300 for blues and a few southern rights in early monitoring years to around 30 in recent years.

A humpback whale breaches in Geographe Bay.

A humpback whale breaches in Geographe Bay.

"There are still many answers required about the migratory patterns of whales, the impact of climate change on their populations, movements and food sources in the coming years.

"Currently, there is an urgent need to study the implications of human interference on southern right whales, especially mother calf pairs, particularly in Geographe Bay, Smiths Beach, Yallingup and Injidup areas.

"Unfortunately, their presences attracts recreational vessels that disturb them and they are forced to move on. Little is known about the impact this disturbance has on the survival rate of the young calves."

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GMR chair Frank Eckler said the company would also engage with other whale researchers in Australia and overseas.

Mr Eckler said it was important to have the statistics and scientific evidence to support improved habitat protection as whales moved along WA's coastline.

"New research technologies developed in recent years have become more complex and expensive, growing beyond the capability of volunteer groups to finance," he said.

"The inability to raise adequate funding is a major barrier in benefitting from the research efforts made to date and enabling future scientific research."

The public are welcome to make a tax deductible donation to marineresearch.org.au.

This story Geographe Bay whale researchers and volunteers establish new company first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.