Quest for cold killers gets going
Australian researchers are going on a voyage to have a look at top predators in the Antarctic.
A six-week research project is about to embark on areas of importance to humpbacks, blue whales and Antarctic toothfish.
Twenty-one scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Antarctica New Zealand and the Australian Antarctic Division will be aboard NIWA’s flagship research vessel RV Tangaroa.
“This trip is particularly exciting because of the challenges involved in such a critical environment," said Voyage Leader and NIWA Principal Scientist Dr Richard O’Driscoll.
“Commercial whaling almost wiped out the blue whales however there are signs they are now starting to come back.
“Finding blue whales is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, but we have a secret - we’re going to listen for them.”
Sonobuoys deployed from the ship will provide bearings towards the source of the low frequency whale songs even when the singing whales are hundreds of kilometres away.
“Crossed bearings from multiple sonobuoys will accurately pinpoint the location of the whales,” said Science Leader with the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Mike Double.
“This approach has been refined during previous voyages, now we can use it to discover why blue whales aggregate in feeding hotspots around the Antarctic.”
Tangaroa then heads into the Ross Sea to one of the main toothfish fishing grounds to study icefish and grenadiers, which are a major prey species for the toothfish.
The scientists will study their abundance and distribution to help determine the potential ecosystem effects of the fishery.
The voyage has been more than 12 months in the planning and will also involve continuous measurements of the ocean and atmosphere which will enable scientists to produce better global models. Models to improve weather forecasting and help better understand the effects of climate change in the Southern Ocean.