Griffith researchers eavesdrop on Humpback whales

For the first time Griffith University researchers will deploy a ‘hi-tech whale phone’ in Gold Coast waters to better understand the tail of the whale migration season.

The team from the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management will place the $17,000 hydrophone five kilometres offshore north of the Seaway in 30 metres depth, and leave it there for the next two months.

Researchers from the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management deploying the hydrophone off the Gold Coast

“With this device we can listen to and record whales up to 10 kilometres away,” lead researcher Dr Olaf Meynecke said.

“The lower pitch whale songs the males make tend to travel much further than the other vocals they produce.”

“We are recording the whale vocals and songs in the Gold Coast Bay during the peak and tail end of the southern whale migration to discovery if there are still whales traversing our shores in November and how this compares to numbers in September and October.”

The hydrophone, deployed by the Griffith whale research group, will improve the monitoring of whales and add to boat-based surveys.

“This device will give us detailed information on the number of calls and their frequencies over time. We will also be able to distinguish whale songs from males and more social calls between mothers and calves.

“Listening to the sounds in the ocean off the Gold Coast will give us key information the amount and intensity of boat noise the whales are confronted with in the area and how this changes over time”.

Lead researcher Dr Olaf Meynecke from the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management

The hydrophone will also pick up the sounds of dolphins feeding near the seaway and could give some insight into their movement patterns as well.

“Over the two-month period the hydrophone will drain the energy from 64 batteries and generate hundreds of Gigabits of audio files that we’ll have to analyse, after we have retrieved the instrument from the bottom of the ocean later in the year,” Dr Meynecke said.

“But it will be definitely worth the effort. The data will provide new insights into the social activities of whales in the Gold Coast Bay and help us better understand how they use this area.”