Movement and migration

For many whale species we still do not know where they go to feed and breed, what routes they take on their migrations, and whether animals from different populations intermingle on their Antarctic feeding grounds. It is therefore crucial to better understand their movements so we can appropriately conserve and manage highly migratory species such as blue, right and humpback whales.

The identification of migration routes, and breeding and feeding grounds is often difficult because many whales live in remote regions and are often shy and elusive. Also, species such as blue and humpback whales travel thousands of kilometres a year, with their summer ranges taking them well into Antarctic waters.

It was clear we needed to develop a way of tracking whales' movements remotely so we have developed a tag which, once attached, will transmit its location to satellites orbiting the Earth. The tags use the latest transmitting electronics available and have enough battery power to achieve tracking times of several months. The electronics and battery are encased in epoxy and high-grade stainless steel components, which are almost completely inert when implanted into the whale's skin.

The tracking data will contribute to the management of human–whale interactions and threatening processes, and particularly to the economically significant whale watching and oil and gas industries. As some whale species recover from past over-exploitation, interactions with shipping and industrial activities will also increase and movement informtion will assist in reducing these potential impacts.

Nick Gales, Eric King, Sarah Robinson, Jason Gedamke, and Mike Double conduct these satellite tracking studies and have developed these tags in collaboration with the Centre for Whale Reseach (WA), Sirtrack Ltd, New Zealand, and Wildlife Computers, USA.

This page was last updated on 31 August 2015