With over 13,000 km of coastline extending from the tropics to the cold-temperate, and a land area four times the size of Texas, WA is bound by the Indian and Southern Oceans. Its waters are home to a rich diversity of ecosystems and wildlife, marine mammals in particular, including migratory great whales, threatened coastal and offshore dolphins, seals and sea lions, and dugongs. The tool-using, alliance-forming Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area have been studied longer than any other population of the species. Australian sea lions and long-nosed fur seals are found around the south west, including the waters just off Perth, with occasional visits from elephant seals, leopard seals and subantarctic fur seals. West of Rottnest Island lies the Perth Canyon, where blue whales aggregate. The largest population of humpback whales on the planet migrates past Perth every year, as do southern right whales, moving from calving grounds in the north to feeding grounds down south. While killer whales hunt seasonally for humpback whale calves off the spectacular Ningaloo Reef, they also consistently aggregate in deep water canyons off the south coast.
The diversity and abundance of marine mammals around the vast WA coastline make it an attractive place for both tourism and research, with first rate marine mammal science being conducted state-wide, and by a healthy mix of both local and international institutions. Marine mammal research in WA is conducted by investigators across many sectors including, but not limited to, universities, industry, environmental consulting firms, government agencies and non-government organisations. Furthermore, many citizens are actively engaged in contributing sightings and more detailed data to several well-structured and ongoing citizen science programmes.
Aboriginal ranger programmes are being instigated and bolstered across the state to forge stronger linkages between western science and traditional ecological knowledge. Effective co-management of connections between land and sea-country is a goal to which we aspire.
Different aspects of marine mammal research are studied at all four of WA’s major universities (University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, Curtin University and Edith Cowan University). The Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia also has strong links with marine megafauna researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. The foundation for this leading research starts with each university offering undergraduate degrees specialising in an array of areas of the marine sciences, including marine biology, engineering, technology, fisheries and aquaculture, and, of-course, conservation.
WA’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has a dedicated Marine Science Programme and the WA Marine Science Institute conduct and support marine mammal research, to ensure that the management of Western Australia’s threatened marine fauna and world-class system of marine parks and reserves is based on sound science.
The last few decades in particular have seen an explosion of high-calibre scientific research on WA’s marine mammals, with many publications and policy-influencing reports being disseminated through regional and international outlets, including top-tier journals Nature and Science and the Society’s own Marine Mammal Science.
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