The lost big blues

03. 11NEWS

• Curt and Micheline-Nicole Jenner from blue whale research vessel Whale Song, with whalespotter Skipper.

ONE of the “quietest” boats in the southern hemisphere slipped into Fremantle this week ahead of a new acoustic survey of Perth Canyon off Rottnest.

The 28m Whale Song is sound-proofed to military standards and can cut through ice when studying the health of the marine environment in Antarctica.

The 185-tonne research boat is tracking a 1000-strong population of blue whales that has “gone missing”.

Ironic, given they are the biggest animals on the planet. Even their cetacean-spotting jack russell Skipper can sense them from nearly a kilometre away.

Centre for Whale Research director Curt Jenner told the Herald blue whales, unlike humpbacks, need to eat regularly. Humpbacks can go for months without a snack.

“Blue whales are tied to krill, making them good indicators of the health of the ocean because krill need algae to survive,” he says, noting few whales had been detected on the voyage across southern Australia.

“We haven’t found the main population, maybe they are here in the Perth Canyon.”

Two populations of blue whales gather at different times of year in Australia’s deepest underwater canyon—Antarctic blues in winter, moving south to the Antarctic edge during summer, and pygmy blues in summer before migrating north to Indonesia in winter.

“The pygmy whales should be in the canyon this time of year,” Mr Jenner says. “We’ve found very few whales in the subtropical convergence along southern Australia, so the only other place they could be hiding out in is Perth Canyon.”

Travelling with a small crew including his wife and fellow marine scientist Micheline-Nicole, Mr Jenner says hydrophones, and Skipper’s finely tuned spotting skills, are expected to pinpoint the sounds of the migrating pod in the next few weeks.

Details of Whale Song’s progress are available at http://www.cwr.org.au.

by CARMELO AMALFI

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