16 July 2018
New efforts to tag false killer whales

Scientists and sea rangers will attempt to find Groote Eylandt’s false killer whales again and attach two more satellite tags to continue their research.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the ALC and Anindilyakwa Land and Sea Rangers joined forces to tag and satellite track the local population around Groote Eylandt, which is estimated at fewer than 500 in number. Over the next 12 to 18 months the team plans to attach another eight satellite tags to false killer whales around Groote.

The first two dolphins were tagged on April 21, but contact was lost with the first tagged false killer on May 12 (after 21 days) and contact was lost with the second  tagged false killer on July 1, which was a total of  10 weeks (70 days) of tracking. More than likely both satellite tags either ran out of battery life or dropped off, which they are designed to do after a few months.

Ranger manager Adrian Hogg said they had gained some important data regarding the species’ movements around the Groote Archipelago.

There is little information on their social behaviour or ecology and this is only the second time in the southern hemisphere they have been tagged. 

DENR marine mammal expert Carol Palmer, who has been leading the research, says the satellite data will be overlaid onto benthic habitat maps of the marine protected area around Groote Eylandt previously created by the ALC and rangers. This will help the team assess what makes the area important for false killer whales.

“Once the team has a deeper and better understanding of this dolphin species plus other marine megafauna (from sighting information), it will put together a management plan for a range of species in the marine protected area,” Dr Palmer said.

SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR: The tracking map shows the movement of the false killer whale pod over 10 weeks. The yellow markers show the first false killer from April 21 to May 12; and the red shows the second one from April 21 to July 1.