Research shows whales can be just like boys in a bar

MONITORING BEHAVIOUR: A small pod of whales approaches a Sunreef boat off the Sunshine Coast.
MONITORING BEHAVIOUR: A small pod of whales approaches a Sunreef boat off the Sunshine Coast. Contributed

MIGRATING whales display behaviour not dissimilar to that of humans in the way they interact and treat each other.

That may be a layman's take on the way mothers and calves totter along on their way south from Hervey Bay while the males rush about bossing and hurrying them along, but it has some validity according to University of Queensland Behaviour Responses of Australian Humpback Whales to Seismic Searches program co-director Mike Noad.

Dr Noad says that when on their own, unaccompanied by a male 'escort', the mums and calves keep their own rhythm, swimming for three hours and then resting while the young nurse before setting off again. The arrival of males on the scene rushing about looking for a mate can have all the hallmarks of a Friday night at a bar.

A team of 30 scientists and volunteers from across the globe are on the Sunshine Coast for the 11th year of a whale behaviour monitoring program that started in 1997.

Initially set up to examine the impact air guns used in oil and gas exploration had on migrating whales, the research program has branched out to study their social behaviour, sounds and songs.

This year the focus of teams deployed atop Emu Mountain, at sea in two small craft, and at Peregian and Sunshine Beach, is to document the underlying social behaviour of the mammals that grow to 16 metres.

Dr Noad said a set of five hydrophones attached to buoys off Peregian Beach radio back sounds to scientists working from Horizons Resort who can listen in real time and track the animals underwater through triangulation while teams at Costa Nova in Sunshine Beach and on Emu Mountain record surface-based activity.

His co-director, Dr Rebecca Dunlop, has compiled the first comprehensive catalogue of humpback social sounds and has tracked the transference of song through groups here to as far away as French Polynesia, more than 7000km away.

Topics:  research whales wildlife

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