Having a whale of a time researching

Griffith University researchers are using humpback whales as “canaries in the coalmine” to tell them what’s happening in Antarctica.

A team lead by Associate Professor Susan Bengtson Nash, of Griffith’s Southern Ocean Persistent Organic Pollutants Program (SOPOPP), has been monitoring the East coast of Australia migrating population for the past 10 years.

Professor Bengston Nash said they used the whales as a sentinel species to indicate what is happening in the Antarctic sea ice system.

“In Moreton Bay we’ve been working for 10 years now looking at the diet, the hormones, the enzyme activation in the animals, the contaminant burdens and also the relative fat reserves of the animals,” she said.

“We have also developed the first humpback whale cell line as a tool for toxicological investigations. We essentially we have a little whale in a petrie dish.

“We’ve discovered that by monitoring the whales’ fatness and diet we can tell whether it’s a good year or a poor year in Antarctica.”

SOPOPP also has a project in Moreton Bay assessing the risk of ship strikes to humpback whales.

Researchers take their samples of whale blubber.