Characterising blue whale foraging habitats in the northern Ross Sea

Antarctic blue whales were hunted to near extinction by industrial whalers. Highest densities are now found near the edge of the Antarctic sea ice during summer, but studies have been limited by the remoteness and logistical challenges presented by the environment.

This study will complement groundbreaking work undertaken in 2013 to determine the distribution of blue whales in the area and measure the characteristics of their habitats.
 Data collection and analysis will:
  • in the short term directly and immediately improve understanding of blue whale distribution and behaviour
  • in the medium term help to quantify the role that blue whales play in the Antarctic ecosystem
  • in the long term enable a precise estimate of Antarctic blue whale numbers to be made, determining whether they are recovering from their near miss with extinction.

Surveying techniques

Surveying will involve visual sightings and new passive acoustic monitoring techniques developed in 2013 by the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. A row of sonar buoys will be dropped into the ocean which are able to detect the sounds whales make from more than 100km away, enabling scientists to pinpoint the position of the whales.

A suite of scientific research - including photography and videography - will then be conducted to determine the demographic structure of groups, identity and health of individual whales, and behaviour of the whales with respect to their prey and the physical environment. At times, the course of the ship will be diverted to carefully approach identified hotspots.

Related information

Read about the Southern Ocean Research Partnership

Read about the Ross Sea ecosystem and trophic model