Rate of Interchange Between East Australia and West Australia Humpback Whales

Project Name: 

Rate of Interchange Between East Australia and West Australia Humpback Whales

Study System:  

Australian humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae

Motivation and Goals:  

In 2011, researchers from the Pacific Whale Foundation recorded a single humpback whale that was seen in both East Australia and West Australia, representing inter-ocean travel between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Globally, there have been other recent inter-ocean sightings of individual humpback whales, and these findings suggest that movement of humpback whales at large scales is poorly understood. 

Species are typically managed differently depending on whether they are comprised of several isolated groups or a single interconnected network.  Knowing more about how humpback whales are moving within and among their ocean habitats will aid in more informed conservation and effective management of the species.


Together with collaborators, the Pacific Whale Foundation research department is comparing photos of individual whales from East Australia to those from West Australia.  These comparisons will allow us to determine how frequently humpback whales move between oceans.  Using the Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale Catalog, we can also determine if there are certain demographic groups that may be more likely to travel such long-distances.

Results to Date:

The match found in 2011 is currently the only individual known to have been photographed in both East and West Australia.  

Next Steps:

We will continue to work with our collaborators to compare images of individuals between the Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale Catalog and photo-identification catalogs of humpback whales in other study areas.

Match My Whale was launched with one catalog from East Australia (PWF) and one from West Australia (CWR). We anxiously await to see if any cross-catalog matches will be found using this web-application.

Most Recent Publication:  

2011: Kaufman, G., Coughran, D., Allen, J., Burns, D., Burton, C., Castro, C., Constantine, R., Childerhouse, S., Franklin, T., Franklin, W., Forestell, P., Gales, R., Garrigue, G., Gibbs, N., Jenner, C., Paton, D., Noad, M., Robbins, J., Slooten, E., Smith, F. and Stevick, P. Photographic evidence of interchange between east Australia (BS E-1) and West Australia (BS D) humpback whale breeding populations. Document SC/63/SH11 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee, Tromso, Norway: 11-14 July.