Abstract:

In October 2016, researchers, park managers and a tourist operator interested in the Bremer Bay region came together at the University of Western Australia with the aim of assessing the extent and likely drivers of a megafauna aggregation, including orca Orcinus orca, long-finned pilot whales Globicephala melas, sperm whales Physeter microcephalus and several shark species that are currently the focus of tourism activities in an area inside and adjacent to the western margin of the Bremer Commonwealth Marine Reserve (CMR) (Meeuwig et al. 2016).

The Minister for Environment and Energy, the Honourable Josh Frydenberg, committed $100,000 to the National Environmental Science Programme’s Marine Biodiversity Hub (MBH) to (1) convene a scientific workshop to design a research plan that may help answer these core questions and (2) conduct priority research in a short time frame. The October 2016, workshop participants identified two areas of priority over the short term as relevant to the needs of the Minister. These were:

  1. What is the distribution of marine mammals beyond the recognised aggregation and in relation to the Bremer CMR?
  2. What science communication tools do we need to assist in decision making?

As a way forward, the following high priority actions were identified:

  1. Design a sampling strategy to estimate the distribution of orcas at the aggregation site and within the CMR.
  2. Identify with Parks Australia, key communication tools stemming from this new research and in relation to existing research.

Parks Australia offered an additional $50,000 to extend the survey options and communication possibilities. The NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub and Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) supported deployment of a Seaglider at the time of the aggregation.

Researchers from numerous institutions including but not exclusive to the University of Western Australia (UWA), Curtin University, Marine Information and Research Group (MIRG) Australia and IMOS, conducted an array of sampling methods from February 2017, with the aim of capturing the key actions identified at the workshop. This report summarises the current outcomes of these research programs.

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