World-first study tracks dwarf minke whales

SYDNEY, August 14, 2013 (AFP) – Dwarf minke whales have been tagged and tracked in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in a world-first pilot study which hopes to solve the mystery of where they spend the summer. Scientists at James Cook University in Queensland state are taking part in the project, also involving researchers from Alaska, which tagged four of the whales last month and is now tracking their southerly progress down the east coast of Australia.

“Although they occur all around the southern hemisphere, the Great Barrier Reef hosts the world’s only known predictable aggregation of these exquisitely beautiful little whales,” the university’s Alastair Birtles said.

Birtles, who has been studying the dwarf minke for 18 years, said while the animals were known to gather each winter off Lizard Island in northern Queensland, it was a mystery where they spent the summer months.

Little is known about the dwarf minkes, which are usually between five to seven metres (16 to 23 feet) long. Although there are several hundred on the Great Barrier Reef, they went unnoticed there until the 1980s.

Whales such as the humpback and southern right are known to migrate down Australia’s east coast in the w