DELWP are calling on the community to submit photos and help track movements and habitat use of the Critically Endangered Southern Right Whale along the Victorian coastline. Photos of the unique pattern of white features on the whales’ heads (called callosities) have been catalogued and used by researchers for many years to identify individual whales. DELWP's Barwon South West Regional Services established and curates the Southeast Australia Southern Right Whale Photo Identification Catalogue (SEA SRW PIC), and with ARI have cross-matched these photos against a national database to gain insights about how whales are using the Australian coast. Such information about distribution and movements of individuals contributes to a better understanding of population dynamics, helping to guide management of this species.

Members of the whale-watching community have provided invaluable contributions to SEA SRW PIC over recent years. DELWP is looking to strengthen and expand on existing community networks to capture even more photos. This will increase the likelihood of recording an individual on multiple occasions and allow us to better track their location over time. Comparisons between images will also help identify breeding patterns and determine trends in population size. Information on sightings, and other related details, will ultimately be submitted to DELWP via the State Wide Integrated Flora and Fauna Teams website (SWIFFT).

Identifying an individual from a photo requires a clear image of the top of the head, best achieved when the whale is breaching and exposing the complete upper jaw (rostrum). This will allow all the relevant markings that make up each whale’s unique pattern to be recorded and matched to future photos of the same individual. Photo identification training workshops for members of the whale watching community have been held in Warrnambool and Phillip Island.

Southern Right Whale calf (SE1712) photographed from shore at The Basin near Killarney (photo by Mary Hartney)

Members of the community near Warrnambool who regularly photograph whales

Southern Right Whale photo identification workshop for learning how to code callosity patterns

For those that are interested to take part, a fact sheet has been produced which provides examples of the types of photos that would be useful.

Photos can be emailed to southern.r.whales@delwp.vic.gov.au

As a minimum, please provide the date, time and location of your sighting as well as your best contact details. Information on photo-identification and callosity patterns of Southern Right Whales can be found in the following fact sheet:

For more information contact: kasey.stamation@delwp.vic.gov.au (ARI) or mandy.watson@delwp.vic.gov.au (Barwon South West Regional Services)