If you've ever wanted to get a glimpse into the life of a whale, now is your chance.
In a series of intimate photos released by the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Organisation (WWF), scientists have attached cameras to a number of humpback whales to help unlock the mysteries of their life in Antartica.
Revealing a huge amount of information, scientists have been able to discover where, when and how the whales feed and get insight into their social lives.
The gathered data will enable better protection of whale feeding areas.
The researchers used suction cups to attach non-invasive digital tags – which contain sensors and a ‘whale cam’ – onto the backs of humpback and minke whales.
As the whales plunge, audiences can go below the surface with them and experience a day in the life of an ocean giant, including the various ways they feed on krill.
“We have some wonderful data on different feeding strategies from rolling lunges near the surface, to bubble net feeding, to deep foraging dives lunging through dense patches of krill,” Associate Professor from Oregon State University and lead scientist on the whale study, Dr Ari Friedlaender said.
“We have been able to show that whales spend a great deal of time during the days socializing and resting and then feeding largely throughout the evening and night time."
“Whales are aggregating in a number of bays – including Wilhelmina Bay, Cierva Cove, Fournier Bay, Errera Channel – in high numbers and are feeding there for weeks at a time," Dr Friedlaender said.
“Every time we deploy a tag or collect a sample, we learn something new about whales in the Antarctic.”
“Once we have an idea about where the whales feed, how often, where they go and rest, we can use this to inform policy and management to protect these whales and their ecosystem."
Dr Friedlaender recounted one occasion when they tagged a whale and another was filmed circling their boat for over an hour.
“They were gentle and curious and seemed as interested in us as we were of them. It is hard to describe the feeling of having a 15m, 40-tonne whale inches away from you, peering back at you. We were all extremely moved by this experience,” he said.
The camera tags are on each whale for between 24 and 48 hours before they detach and are retrieved by scientists and reused.
WWF Australia has provided funding for three ‘whale cams’ to help scientists better understand critical feeding areas in the Southern Ocean and the impact of shrinking ice caused by warming sea temperatures.
“Marine protected areas are important tools to protect species and enable habitats to become more resilient and thrive into the future,” WWF-Australia Ocean Science manager, Chris Johnson, said.
“Growing human impacts such as climate change and increasing krill fishing overlapping in their critical feeding areas need to be managed carefully."
Establishing well-managed marine protected areas can help maintain krill populations and deliver effective biodiversity conservation, helping protect future generations of whales.
The aim of the partnership is to implement and promote non-lethal whale research techniques to maximise conservation outcomes for Southern Ocean whales.
Dr Ari Friedlaender’s work was conducted from the OneOcean Expeditions vessel, Akademik Ioffe.