Rare baby white whale spotted by drone

A baby white whale was spotted off the coast of Western Australia during aerial surveys.
A baby white whale was spotted off the coast of Western Australia during aerial surveys.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • Scientists studying whales in Australia have gained rare images of a white calf swimming with its mother as part of a project they hope will help conservation efforts.

Researchers spotted the baby white whale while using a drone to conduct aerial surveys of southern right whale populations off the coast of Western Australia.

"Drones are allowing us to non-invasively measure the size and body condition of free living southern right whales," said Dr Fredrik Christiansen, a researcher at Murdoch University's Cetacean Research Unit.

Professor Lars Bejder, who took the drone footage with Dr Christiansen off Augusta in the state's south-west in July and August, said the drones provided a new perspective on the animals.

Southern right whale populations are showing signs of recovery from the impact of whaling last century, but the population is still estimated to be relatively small at about 3,000 animals in Australian waters.

Southern right whale populations are showing signs of recovery from the impact of whaling last century, but the population is still estimated to be relatively small at about 3,000 animals in Australian waters.

The white calf is rare as only about 5 per cent of the species are born this colour. They darken to grey in their first year.

The drones are part of an innovative programme which also uses suction cup tags applied to the whales to measure their dives and sounds to learn more about the animals.

"Little is known about the three-dimensional movements and habitat use of southern right whales in their breeding and calving grounds in Australia," Prof Bejder said.

He added that such data was vital for the animal's conservation, given that many areas in the region were slated for developments which would see an increase in shipping and tourism. "Our aim is not only to study the behavioural ecology of these amazing animals, but also to provide information to industry and management towards conservation."

The suction cup tags, affixed to the animals via hand-held poles, stay attached for up to 24 hours and measure and record the depth, pitch and roll of swimming behaviour.

"The tag also records sound, which is sufficient for measuring sounds made by boats and those heard by the whales," said Prof Bejder.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2016, with the headline 'Rare baby white whale spotted by drone'. Print Edition | Subscribe