Friday, February 10, 2012

Oil exploration survey spots 17 blue whales off coast of southern Australia

The area's biggest-ever monitoring programme
February 2012: The whales were identified in the largest aerial monitoring programme ever undertaken for blue whales in the region. The survey is a collaboration between Adelaide-based exploration company Bight Petroleum in conjunction with Portland-based researchers Blue Whale Study Inc, led by Dr Peter Gill.
Three aerial surveys, covering more than 5,000 km, have been flown between Ceduna on the west coast of South Australia and Port Fairy in Victoria. Dr Gill said that in all, 17 blue whales had been identified either feeding or surfacing with a further three sightings of whales which could not be conclusively identified.
'The season so far is quiet'‘The eastern Bight is a very important feeding habitat for blues in some seasons, but the low numbers we have seen suggest this season so far is relatively quiet,' Dr Gill said.
‘Without these surveys we would have no idea what is going on out there.'
The next survey flight is scheduled for later this month, with additional flights to follow to gather more data to enhance the understanding of cetacean activity in the area. The Chief Operating Officer for Bight, Iain MacDougall, said the information from the survey would help Bight in planning its exploration activities to ensure minimal environmental impact.
Hoping to gather more dataBight has been awarded two exploration permits in the Eastern Bight Basin and late last year was granted a 12 month suspension/extension on its permits, allowing it to start its 3D seismic survey at the end of the year.
Mr MacDougall said that operating in Australia's calmer summer months would help in managing safety on board the survey ships as well as avoiding key whale migration times, particularly the winter southern right whale migration through the area.
‘The revised timing of our work programme gives us an extra opportunity to acquire base-line data of blue whale activity in the region through the summer months,' he said.

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