Population studies on marine mammals, whether to assess the population-level effects of anthropogenic noise, or monitoring population recovery, requires knowledge on parameters that affect energy intake and energy use. Any natural (e.g. reduction in food availability) or anthropogenic disruptions (e.g. behavioural disturbance leading to increased energy use) may have implications for population survival and growth. This PhD project will fill a major gap in knowledge for eastern Australian humpback whale population health, energy use during migration, and fecundity.

The project has two broad aims:

  1. To develop baseline population health parameters for a healthy humpback whale population during migration, including body condition for both sexes and pregnancy rates for females.
  2. To develop a model relating reproductive status, body condition, and energy use, in migrating humpback whales with a particular emphasis on reproductive females.

Outcomes will be used to monitor changes in population health and fecundity, which are essential for predicting the future of the population. These have important conservation implications in managing the growth trajectory of the population, potential population crashes due to natural causes (the population has reached carrying capacity), and anthropogenic disturbances. Data collection will involve sampling humpback whales from the eastern Australian population during both their northward migration towards the Great Barrier Reef calving grounds and southward migration towards the Antarctic feeding grounds. Sampling will be conducted off North Stradbroke Island near Brisbane in June/July and September/October, 2020 and 2021. Drone footage will be collected simultaneously with biopsies. Progesterone concentrations will be measured using enzyme-immunoassays (EIAs) and pregnancy status (non-pregnant, pregnant) assigned to females using lab facilities at the Moreton Bay Research Station. Body condition will be estimated by photogrammetry methods.

This project is co-supervised by Dr. Rebecca Dunlop and Associate Professor Michael Noad, Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory, School of Veterinary Science.

Project members

Dr Rebecca Dunlop

Senior Lecturer in Physiology
Veterinary Science

Associate Professor Michael Noad

Associate Professor
Veterinary Science

Mr. Jacob Linsky

PhD Student