A photo-identification study of southern right whales to update aggregation area classification in the southwest of Australia
Final report, May 2022
The population of southern right whales in the Southern Hemisphere has been recovering, with increasing evidence of expansion of aggregation areas, including breeding grounds off the coast of Australia. This project collated more than 2000 images and completed matching of individually identifiable whales in photos between 1991 to 2021 in the southwest corner of Australia to evaluate abundance, residency, site fidelity and connectivity in this historically data limited region.
The new knowledge resulting from this study indicates that the Geographe and Flinders Bay regions fit the definition of a small established aggregation “containing up to about 10 (usually less than five) calving females at the peak of the season”. It is recommended that future research in the Geographe Bay region extends beyond the area of this study to capture wider ranging patterns within and between breeding grounds. This would be consistent with approaches recommended for effective conservation-based spatial planning. Comparisons of photographs over the broader spatial range of the western sub-population are required to evaluate connectivity and re-establishment of former breeding grounds across Western Australia and into South Australia.