Banner image of a tagged humpback whale

The large BRAHSS project that CEAL is currently involved in grew in many ways from an earlier body of work, the Humpback whale Acoustic Research Collaboration or HARC. This included the University of Queensland, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (USA), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA), the University of St. Andrews (UK) and the University of Newcastle (Australia) with funding from the US Office of Naval Research and DSTO.

Image of the HARC logo

This project aimed to learn about the normal behavioural reactions of migrating humpback whales to each other as they passed southeast Queensland during their spring migration back to the Southern Ocean. It also included some Controlled Exposure Experiments (CEEs) involving conspecific social sounds and artificial tones. Most data for HARC was collected in 2002, 2003 and 2004 at Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane. We returned in 2008 to do some additional CEEs to round off our data set. We have analysed much of the data and produced several publications with more in the pipeline (CEAL project leader: Mike Noad).

The most powerful aspect of HARC is that it offers fine-scale behavioural observations of whales together with the broader context of social and environmental influences. As a result, HARC is recognized as a leader in the field of multiple resolution observations of whales in a well-characterized environment.

HARC Origins

Humpback whale field research started at Peregian Beach in 1997 when Michael Noad was doing his PhD at the University of Sydney. Mike was being supervised by Prof. Michael Bryden, Professor of Veterinary Anatomy, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, and Dr Doug Cato, Principal Research Scientist at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Sydney. Mike's PhD was on the use of song by humpback whales during migration.

Mike was originally inspired by Adam Frankel, a US researcher who had used visual observations from land together with a three hydrphone array to simultaneously visually and acoustically track humpbacks in Hawai'i. DSTO built three hydrophone buoys, based on their spa-buoy design used for anemometers, and these were further developed and tested in the field off Point Lookout, at North Stradbroke Island, in 1996 and early 1997 before being deployed off Peregian Beach in the spring of 1997.

HARC 02-04

The first incarnation of HARC, 2002 to 2004, involved the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the University of St Andrews and the University of Queensland as the main partners. The original project was funded primarily by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, with additional funding from DSTO.

Experiments were conducted during the humpbacks' annual southern migration, developing a methodology to perform simultaneous visual and acoustic observations and tracking of whales, which resulted in a comprehensive dataset on the movements and behaviours of whales.

HARC 08-09

HARC 2008 was a smaller and more focused project designed to transfer some of the tagging technology to Australia, involving DSTO, UQ and the Australian Centre for Applied Marine Mammal Science (ACAMMS) - part of the Australian Antarctic Division. Funding was provided by ACAMMS.

A number of additional observation platforms were added to fulfil project objectives, including boat-based fine scale behavioural observations (Smith et al, 2008), Dtags for measuring detailed movements and behaviours of diving whales (Noad et al., 2004; Dunlop et al. 2010), and vertical hydrophone arrays for developing new methods for tracking vocalising whales (Thode et al., 2004, 2006). This suite of observation platforms naturally lent itself to behavioural response studies.

Using a separate visual focal follow team as well as a visual scan sampling team, both the fine scale and broad scale observations of whales exposed to acoustic stimuli could be measured and behaviours placed in the context of the social and physical environment.

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