Marine mammal research organisation Humpbacks and High-rises is holding the Gold Coast’s first whale festival on August 31 to raise awareness of endangered marine animals.
Humpbacks and High-rises (HHR) is a not-for-profit marine mammal research organisation based on the Gold Coast.
The organisation runs Queensland’s largest marine mammal monitoring program and, with the help of community volunteers, conducts research and analysis to help protect whales and dolphins.
HHR’s CEO, Olaf Maynecke, is the driving force behind the organisation’s inaugural whale festival, which will be held at the Gold Coast’s Burleigh Heads.
Mr Maynecke said he hoped the festival would help increase local community awareness of whale and dolphin health, which can be endangered by discarded rubbish and nets, as well as by water pollution.
“We want to celebrate the humpback whales and other species coming into our beautiful Gold Coast bay,” he said.
“We have decided to run a day of activities and have a strong focus on family.”
Mr Maynecke said the free festival, which runs from 9am to 4pm at Justins Park in Burleigh Heads, would boast an array of activities and attractions.
“There will be live music from talented local artists including the Lost Knights, marine-life preservation presentations, a documentary screening, a beach clean-up, a scavenger hunt with prizes, whale story telling for kids, a land-based whale survey, and stalls and exhibits from various environmental protection organisations,” he said.
“Many hundreds of volunteer hours have gone into organising the event,” he said.
“So, we might not have the fanciest setup, but we have many amazing community members helping out and joining in,” he said.
“This festival isn’t about money; it truly is about our whales and our community and their conection to the ocean,” he said.
According to HHR, hundreds of humpback whales die or get injured each year from discarded nets and rubbish in the water.
HHR president Sarah McCulloch said working in partnership with the community had helped HHR achieve much of their research goals to discover how, where, why and in what numbers whales migrate, which allows the organisation to determine potential protective measures.
“Humpbacks and High-rises is a not-for-profit marine mammal research organisation that conducts citizen science-based research on humpback whales and other marine mammals in South East Queensland,” Ms McCulloch said.
“The main goal of HHR is to improve understanding about the abundance, distribution, behaviour, and movement patterns of whales and dolphins, as well as to raise awareness,” she said.
“Our dedicated team of volunteers undertake daily research trips during whale season to gain information, and from there it is used by researchers to formulate better management and protection,” she said.
Ms McCulloch said there were no other organisations collecting data about the whales and dolphins that inhabit the Gold Coast waters, and working with universities and organisations had been vital to learning about marine life.
“Considering our partnership with the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management and Griffith University, HHR has become vital,” she said.
“Since 2010 we have covered over 3500 whales and created a database of research results,” she said.
“We have attended many national and international conferences over the years where our research has been presented,” she said.
“We also have supported various projects and Masters and Honours students resulting in scientific publications,” she said.
The organisation focuses on research, rescue and education around marine mammals, but also raises awareness about other threats facing local marine life.
Ms McCulloch said the effects of coastal development, urbanisation, dredging and littering had serious consequences and HHR’s work was vital to reverse ignorant perceptions and attitudes around preserving the oceans.
“An increase in coastal expansion and climate change has created new obstacles that add unnecessary stress on marine life,” she said.
“From increased boat use in the Gold Coast and entanglements in shark nets and fishing gear, to noise and plastic pollution from jet skis and development on the coast, such as dredging or building underwater structures, we see firsthand a lot of the threats that humpback whales face,” she said.
“My role as president involves helping to organise events like beach cleans, stalls, volunteering, training seminars and coordinating research on the commercial whale watching vessels,” she said.
“We presently have one petition running to convince the Queensland Government to remove the current shark control program and look into alternative technologies,” she said.
HHR researcher Raquel Trejo said conducting research was tied closely to the whale tourism industry.
“My research is trying to find a possible balance, where we can maintain a responsible whale tourism industry with minimal impact on marine life,” Ms Trejo said.
“At the moment we are trying to look into the current situation of the whale tourism industry in Australia; where it is done, by whom, how it is regulated and managed,” she said.
“We need to interview operators and swimmers to understand their expectations.”
“From the operators we are trying to understand the methods they use for their swims; how do they navigate human and animal safety,” she said.
Humpbacks and High-rises determines how humpback whales use the east coast in terms of migrating and breeding through technology that collects in-depth data.
“Traditionally we can collect data via land, boat or aerial based surveys, which observe behaviour and migration,’ Ms Trejo said.
“The information gathered by Acoustic Doppler Water Profilers (ADCP) is also used to determine currents, temperature, bathymetry, salinity and turbidity and its effects on marine life,” she said.
“Our video and audio recordings document individual interaction and whale biopsies from tissue samples and exhaled breath keeps track of pod health,” she said.
“Whale tourism is a reality and we need to work to minimise the impact of each trip.”
For more information about Humpbacks and High-rises visit http://www.humpbacksandhighrises.org/.
To find out more about the Gold Coast’s first whale festival, visit the event’s Facebook page.