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10 January 2007

Whale Migration

Travel out to sea with some researchers from New South Wales.

PETER HARRISON, WHALE RESEARCHER: The humpback whale is an incredible creature.
It grows to about 15 metres long and it weighs in at about 35 to 40 tonnes and when you're out on the water interacting with these humpback whales and you see a humpback whale breach close to the boat or if it comes into the boat and has a look at you that changes your perspective about whales forever.
The five-month Southern Cross University whale research centre survey of humpback whales this year aims to try and establish the true numbers of humpback whales that are in the population migrate up and down the east coast of Australia.
We're also looking to identify as many individuals as possible and we do that using photo identification of the unique pigment markings on the underside of the tail flukes of each humpback whale.
And we're also collecting skin samples for genetic analysis so that we can understand how different humpback whales are related to each other and what the whole pool of the different genotypes within the population are.

MAX EGAN, SKIPPER: Well I've been surfing for about 40 years and probably saw my first whale while I was surfing. I thought they were awesome; they're just an amazing animal really. We've been doing it for a fair while now and you never get sick of seeing them. We look forward to the season starting again so that we can get back out in the water.

PETER HARRISON: We're really concerned about the reports coming out from Japan. At the moment we estimate that probably the population's probably in the order of about only one quarter of the original, natural whale-size population and if they start to take too many whales then we'll see that recovery process threatened and in fact we might see a decline in the population and that would threaten the ability of the population to recover but also Australia's whale-watch tourism industry which is worth $270 million each year.

DANIEL BURNS, PhD STUDENT: I hate to think of the fact that you know for some of these whales that we're looking at right now it'll be the last journey they make. Look I think what we're doing is really important particularly in the current political climate with the push to begin whaling again.

I'd like to think that the research that we're doing will go a long way towards helping to conserve the whales and trying to find exactly what is going on with this population.

story notes

The verb to interact means to communicate with or react to something. The adjective is interactive. If something is interactive it is designed to interact with. When Peter uses the word interacting he suggests that they are not just watching the whales. They are communicating or reacting to one another.

The word breach means to make an opening or to break the surface. A whale that has breached has broken the surface of the water.

Perspective refers to a way of looking at something.

To migrate means to move from a place to somewhere else, usually a long way away.

To identify means to recognise someone and be able to say who they are

 photo identification
They’re taking photos of the whales.

 unique pigment markings
Unique means unusual or special - the only one of a kind. Pigment refers to the natural colour of something.

The underside is the underneath or the back of something.

Flukes are the large flat fins that make up the tail.

 genetic analysis
Genetic analysis refers to studying genes.

Here, a pool means a collection of something.

Genotype refers to the type and arrangement of certain genes in an individual.