In the first move of its kind in Australia, scientists are using satellite technology to track the migration of the humpback whale. The Southern Ocean Research Partnership has tracked 16 humpback and four blue as they journeyed from the coast of Australia to their feeding grounds in Antarctica.
Some of the whales were tracked over five months and 4,000 km. Dr Nick Gales from the government's Australian Marine Mammal Centre said it had helped scientists learn more about many whale species.
He said that understanding where the whales were breeding and how they mixed helped scientists to actually look at the size of each of the populations and assess which were recovering well, which were not and what the reasons behind it.
He said it was particularly important to understand the reasons in an environment that was changing rapidly because of the climate processes.
In an interesting discovery, the scientists have discovered that humpback whales tagged off the east coast traveled more widely than had been previously thought.
The discovery also differs from the traditional understanding of the humpback whale's travel routes as identified by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The Australian government hopes the research will provide accurate scientific data to help the government protect the Southern Ocean whales.
The study's findings suggest that whales spend more time feeding in temperate waters than previously thought. These areas stretch from the east of Flinders Island off north-east Tasmania, and west of Fjordland, New Zealand.
According to Gales, the activity of humpback whales within Bass Strait is much greater than what had been previously thought and this was the first study to show migration through Bass Strait and also down Tasmania's west coast.
He added that the study provided information on the whales' feeding patterns in Antarctica and the relationship between their food source, krill and retreating sea ice during the summer melt.
According to environment minister Peter Garrett, the research program strengthened Australia's position on conservation. He said it meant that Australia possessed good quality science to continue its extremely strong position and argument about reforming the IWC so that it became a conservation-focused organization.
The minister said that Japan was not a part of the programme but has an open invitation to join. The initiative, he said, was part of the most comprehensive effort undertaken ever to address a dysfunctional situation where the IWC permits countries to take whales in the name of science.
He added that the clear message that Australia had sent out to Japan was to join in research partnership that was not about killing whales but about better understanding them.
Garrett, however, would not say whether the government would use the scientific research to pressure the Japanese to stop whaling altogether.
Over the last six months, the Australian government has ramped up its commitment to non-lethal whale research. The government has committed $32 million to whale conservation initiatives, including a $14 million Southern Ocean research partnership programme.
Nations that have joined the programme include Latin American countries, the US, New Zealand, South Africa and the EU- almost all nations with an interest in whale conservation.