About the research

Introduction

The Kimberley Community Whale Research Project is a land-based humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) survey conducted near James Price Point (JPP), the site of Woodside Energy Ltd’s proposed Browse Liquefied Natural Gas (BLNG) precinct.

Figure 1. Map of the survey area in relation to JPP and the BLNG development.

Figure 1. Map of the survey area in relation to JPP and the BLNG development.

The survey, which is led by marine scientists, investigates humpback whale numbers, behaviours and use of the JPP area for comparative purposes, and seeks to characterise the impacts of industrial development on the west coast population of humpback whales (Breeding Stock D).

Project Background

The WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), recently gave Woodside Energy Ltd (Woodside) and the WA Department of State Development (DSD) approval to develop the BLNG Precinct at JPP.

As part of the environmental impact assessment process, Woodside, commissioned RPS consultants to survey humpback whales at the site of the proposed BLNG Precinct. Their results and recommendations were used by the EPA in their approval of the development.

The Traditional Owners of the JPP area, the Goolarabooloo and the Broome Community No Gas Campaign, were concerned about the scientific rigour of the surveys carried out by the consultants. Consequently, in 2012, this marine-scientist led survey was initiated in collaboration with these communities. The survey was largely unfunded, with all participants contributing their time voluntarily.

Survey Methods

The 2012 survey was conducted from two observation platforms located on the cliff top at Murdudun (8 km south of JPP). The survey area covered 223 km² of the JPP region and was split into two quadrants (north and south; figure 1). 

Observation platforms on the cliff top at Murdudun.

Figure 2. Observation platforms on the cliff top at Murdudun.

The survey took place over a three month period, from 1st July – 30th September. This is known as the peak migration period for the west coast humpback whale population. Surveying was carried out continuously for a four hour period each day, from 8:00 to 12:00 (excluding days with poor visibility). Six observers were positioned on each platform for the four hour survey period.

When a pod was sighted, observers recorded the number of adults and cow-calf pairs, the compass bearing, distance, time, latitude, longitude, water depth, height of the tide and whale behaviour.

To collect data about the use of the JPP area and to reduce the possibility of double counting whales, most pods were tracked through the survey area.

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