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Whale Research Expeditions
in Hervey Bay

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DNA Analysis of Humpback Whale Faeces

Dr Nick Gales runs the Australian Marine Mammal Centre (AMMC Group at the Australian Antarctic Division.

Nick's team is applying DNA-based technology to look at the diet of whales and other protected Southern Ocean species such as seals and penguins. DNA of recently consumed prey and stomach parasites can be detected from faeces samples.

The Oceania Project began a collaboration with Nick in 2002 to answer the question: 'Do humpback whales opportunistically feed in Hervey Bay?'.

Over the years we have observed what appears to be opportunistic feeding by humpbacks on schooling fish within Hervey Bay. Local fishermen had also provided information that humpbacks favour reefs and shoals within the Bay where schooling fish occur.

DNA data from the Hervey Bay faeces samples will enable us to determine if humpbacks are feeding and possibly to identify the species of fish involved.

This application of DNA-based technology provides an alternative research method to 'lethal' science as a means of answering such questions.

Sue & Jacqui spooning the sample Expedition Assistant 2003 Jacqui Bullard & Intern Sue Mason discover there is no easy way to get humpback faeces into a sample tube. Sue & Jacqui, a job well done Jacqui holds the completed sample ready to send off to Dr Nick Gales and his team. Sue and Jacqui have every reason to smile at a 'job well done!

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