PORT of Brisbane and Griffith University are studying interactions between migrating whales and vessels, including cargo ships, off the Queensland coast.

The project extends an existing four-year partnership that formed in response to the federal government’s national strategy for reducing vessel strikes.

Susan Bengtson Nash from Griffith University’s Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, is leading the three-year Australian Research Council Linkage project, called Life in The Shipping Lane.

The project was was granted $323,388 last year. The centre noted there have not been any reported whale ship strikes within the Port of Brisbane’s shipping channel to date.

It said there was previously very little data to assess the behaviour of whales in the wider Moreton Bay area, and Port of Brisbane considered it important to understand any potential risks to enable informed risk-based decision making.

Port of Brisbane CEO Neil Stephens said the port saw great value in helping fund the research to enable all parties to better understand whale behaviour at a local level.

“Moreton Bay is widely enjoyed by the community and the northern part of the bay incorporates the port’s shipping channels, which are critical to servicing South East Queensland’s growing population,” he said.

“The research to date has shown that parts of Moreton Bay are important areas for migrating whales which is valuable information to help better understand whale behaviour in the local area.”

Professor Bengtson Nash said the findings would help fill knowledge gaps surrounding the whale population’s seasonal distribution and habitat use in coastal waters which in turn would inform management of human-whale interactions in the region.

“The Moreton Bay region is characterised by rapid coastal and maritime development, as well as a growing humpback whale population,” she said.

“These findings present a local environmental management challenge but also an opportunity for the sustainable use of this rapidly developing region.

“These findings will help build our knowledge about how whales use the Bay, informing future planning and supporting a safer Moreton Bay for all.”

The research team recently published the findings from five years’ worth of strategic surveys in Frontiers in Marine Science that identified Moreton Bay as an important resting area for migrating humpback whales.

The study found 42% of the whales observed on the southern leg of the migration entered the bay and 77% of pods entering the bay had accompanying calves.

Juliana Castrillon, who was employed on the consultancy, said studies such as this highlight the importance of resting stopovers in general throughout the whales’ annual migration.

“There is also a need to determine other stopovers along migration and consider risk mitigation measures to protect these individuals within these areas,” Dr Castrillon said.

And research team PhD candidate Raphael Maynaud detailed the development of spatial models to predict where humpback whales were likely to be found within Moreton Bay, and to what degree they overlapped with commercial shipping traffic.

“We’ve identified areas within the Moreton Bay region where ships and whales may potentially interact with each other and this information can then help promote the safety of humpback whales.”