Australia is entering a phase of rapid offshore renewable energy (ORE) development, with regions earmarked for wind farms on the western and south-eastern coasts. Before ORE activities can commence, proponents must secure relevant approvals and licences under commonwealth and state legislation.

The approvals process must consider overlap with Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) for listed species, as well as potential cumulative environmental impacts at a regional level, and environmental factors specific to the proposed development. (BIAs are areas where aggregations of individuals display biologically important behaviour such as calving, foraging, resting or migration.)

The pygmy blue whale is listed as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) and the distribution and BIA for this species overlap with proposed ORE development areas off western and south-eastern Australia.

As such the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) and the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Authority (NOPSEMA) have identified pygmy blue whales as a priority species for understanding the potential impacts of ORE. Additionally, NOPSEMA has identified the need for improved understanding on species, processes and industry activities to support impact and risk assessment.

This project will address these priority needs by:

  • mapping the Australian distribution and core areas of use for pygmy blue whales;
  • identifying where core areas of use overlap with proposed ORE developments;
  • assessing the potential impacts of these developments in addition to existing impacts from other anthropogenic activities (cumulative impacts); and
  • mapping potential impact scores across the pygmy blue whale range and within core areas of use, BIAs, and ORE proposed areas.


Pygmy blue whale relative distribution, foraging and migratory core areas will be mapped using satellite tracking data held by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), Flinders University and the Australian Antarctic Division (38 individuals). Auxiliary data sources to be sourced include aerial surveys, marine mammal observer data held by researchers and industry, and model predictions of suitable foraging and migrating habitat previously undertaken by AIMS.

The distribution and core foraging and migratory areas will be overlaid with:

  • spatial data relating to pressures including shipping, artificial structures (ORE areas), existing oil and gas activity and associated threats (such as loss of habitat within development areas, vessel strike, underwater noise);
  • proposed ORE development areas; and
  • BIA and Australian Marine Park boundaries.

Areas will be scored and mapped according to a cumulative impact framework (areas of the most intensive threat and whale vulnerability rated highest) to determine cumulative impact across these spatial management units and identify potential low-impact areas.

All project outputs (and the underlying data where possible) will be made publicly available and future research and data collection needs will be identified.

The findings of this project will contribute to the risk assessment carried out in Project 4.7 and compiled data can be used in Project 4.9.

Expected outcomes

This project will directly address research needs identified by DCCEEW and NOPSEMA in relation to ORE by delineating distribution and cores areas for pygmy blue whales, and assessing and mapping potential impacts from proposed ORE projects and existing human activities and threats. This will improve the capacity of regulators and wind farm proponents to assess and mitigate potential impacts of ORE. The outputs may also contribute to blue whale recovery planning and the review of BIAs (if timing is in alignment).

Sites identified as low impact will be considered as potential control sites for monitoring programs related to ORE development. Identification of data gaps will assist in prioritising future research.

Project location

From Victoria in the south-east to the mid coast of Western Australia.