Humpback Whale Sentinel Program




Climate change in Antarctica has local and global ramifications. Long-term systematic observations are one of the most powerful ways to gain an understanding of the complex ecological changes occurring in remote polar marine areas.


The Humpback Whale Sentinel Program is part of the Southern Ocean Persistent Organic Pollutants Program (SOPOPP) led by Associate Professor Susan Bengtson Nash and based at the Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Australia. It aims to increase the understanding of climate and pollution-induced ecosystem changes in Antarctica. Its mission is to provide high quality scientific data to the scientific and policy community to support evidence-based environmental policy and decision making.

The Humpback Whale Sentinel Program (HWSP) - - is a long-term biological monitoring program for circum-Antarctic surveillance of the Antarctic sea ice ecosystem. It targets sentinel parameters of adiposity, diet, and fecundity in 5 distinct Southern Hemisphere humpback whale breeding stocks on an annual basis on their respective breeding grounds. This program is supported by strong international partnerships (Projeto Baleia Jubarte, Brazil; Institute of Research and Development, New Caledonia; WA Cetacean Research Center and Macauticos Foundation, Colombia).

Blubber stores, diet, and fecundity of Southern Hemisphere humpback whales reflect their summer feeding conditions in Antarctica. Southern Hemisphere humpback whales depend on summer feeding on Antarctic krill to support their winter migration to tropical breeding grounds for mating and calving. Skin biopsies of blubber and skin are collected annually from different Southern Hemisphere breeding populations. In these tissues is an integrated response of the previous summer's feeding conditions.

This program was designed to complement existing biomonitoring programs under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP), and to produce open source data for the Antarctic and cetacean research communities. It is supported by the Southern Ocean Research Partnership (SORP), endorsed by the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS), and is the culmination of 13 years of research and development of biomarkers and ecological tracers within SOPOPP.