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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries
Thursday 26 September 2019

Whale migration research is vital to better fisheries management in WA

​Tens of thousands of whales migrate along the Western Australian coast from May to November, each year, so understanding the migration, how to avoid entanglements, the types of fishing gear that reduce risk and improving rescue strategies are all vital considerations.

The humpbacks are now on their southerly migration, as they head back to Antarctica. 

Today’s high standards for managing sustainable fisheries require reducing the impacts that fishing can have on the marine environment to a minimum.

WA can be proud of the work undertaken by fisheries scientists, as well as the rescue efforts for entangled whales carried by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ Parks and Wildlife Service teams and the support of the Western Rock Lobster industry, which is funding whale buoy tracking devices.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Fisheries scientist, Doctor Jason How said developing the whale buoy device, that helps Parks and Wildlife Service rescue teams to locate and disentangle whales, has been a great breakthrough.

“Whales occasionally become caught on various types of fishing gear, but fixing a whale buoy to the entanglement that trails behind the whale enables the rescue team to keep track of it while they set up a strategy to free the whale,” Dr How said.

“WA’s whale buoy device has attracted interest from fisheries managers interstate and overseas, who have similar challenges with entanglements involving whales.”

Fisheries scientists from DPIRD have contributed to effective management strategies that have seen the number of entanglements with fishing drop by more than a third from a total of 31 in 2013 to 19 last year despite over 60% more whales migrating along the coast than in 2013.  


 Dr Jason How monitoring whale activity off the WA coast 

Satellite tracking of free-swimming whales has also provided valuable data for WA’s fisheries scientists to evaluate and share with other research organisations and the fishing industry.

“By fixing satellite tags to free-swimming whales”, Dr How said, “we have been able to build a big picture of migration pathways and how the whales move along the coast during their journey to calving areas in the north and on their way home again to Antarctica. 

“To meet the strict criteria required for sustainable fisheries, they must work on reducing impacts fishing can have on the environment, through regulations and the fishing gear used.

“This whale research by DPIRD scientists, and the need to continually assess management strategies, will be very important as whale populations and the number of whales migrating along the WA coast continue to grow each year.”

Watch a video about DPIRD whale research here

Last modified: 27/09/2019 11:30 AM

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