Whales ‘chased to exhaustion’

RESEARCH: SARDI Researchers chase whales to exhaustion.
RESEARCH: SARDI Researchers chase whales to exhaustion.

CEDUNA District Council mayor Allan Suter has criticised the South Australian Research and Development Institute after researchers were photographed in the whale sanctuary at Head of Bight tagging southern right whales and collecting biological samples for testing.

SARDI has said nine whales were tagged by an experienced consultant from Blue Planet Marine and experts from SARDI, Macquarie University and Flinders University.

Initially it was advised by concerned whale protectors that researchers were not equipped with permission to conduct the tagging however SARDI said researchers obtained appropriate federal and state permits prior to the task.

When researchers arrived in the protected area up to 77 whales were counted but numbers have dwindled to 12 after their research efforts were completed.

It was brought to Mr Suter's attention and he said sending researchers to Head of Bight where cows and calves were was "irresponsible and unnecessary".

"Everyone else is expected to respect the peace and tranquility of the area for the sake of the whales, it just makes no sense at all to go in there and chase whales to exhaustion sticking tags in them," Mr Suter said.

"If I went in there I would be in jail and yet they just go in and do as they please."

Mr Suter stressed his concerns and hoped the institute's actions would not impact on whale numbers next season.

"We see the above research as unnecessary and intrusive and fear that this represents a small taste of the way that marine sanctuary zones will operate," Mr Suter said.

SARDI Aquatic Science Research chief professor Gavin Begg said the tagging was conducted at the end of the calving season, with southern right whales expected to start migrating away from the Head of the Bight by mid-September.

"While individual whales were exposed to short-term disturbance by the approach of our vessel, we don't expect to see any long-term changes in behaviour of the animals," Professor Begg said.

SARDI said the main purpose of the project is to understand the movements and migration pathways of southern right whales from southern Australia and therefore the research was paramount to the project's success.

"The first satellite recordings from the tagged whales are showing that some of the animals are still in the Head of the Bight vicinity," Professor Begg said.

The research is part of a Federal Australian Marine Mammal Centre funded-project which will report the research findings next year.