Terri Irwin, whose efforts with Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and daughter Bindi to protect wildlife have made her an international figure in conservation advocacy, today signed an agreement with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University to fund two humpback whale research projects.
The agreement furthers Terri Irwin and Australia Zoo’s commitment to conservation and helps support the work of the OSU institute to gather critical data on endangered and threatened marine mammal species.
Terri Irwin and Bruce Mate, director of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute, announced that the agreement that will send Mate-led research teams to American Samoa and Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for intensive studies of humpback whale breeding, foraging, migration and stock identification.
“Thanks to Terri’s generosity and enthusiastic interest in protecting threatened wildlife around the world, we’ll be able to significantly expand the research capacities of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute,” said Mate. “We hope to show that it’s quite possible to gather the rich breadth of critical information we need to help protect whales without killing or injuring them.”
Terri Irwin has been a vocal opponent of harvesting whales for scientific purposes. The non-lethal methods used by OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute to study humpback and other whale species, she says, can provide much of the same information. The funds for this research, donated through Australia Zoo’s Wildlife Warriors USA, will create the Steve Irwin Whale Research fund.
“I am so proud to be developing a partnership with the OSU for important research to conserve whales. Steve was very passionate about whales. They are extraordinary creatures, and it is so important that we do everything we can to save them,” she said. “Learning about whales is part of a bigger picture. Our oceans are in jeopardy and the more research we gather about whales, the more knowledge we have to help us save, protect and preserve our delicate oceans.
“The Steve Irwin Whale Research Fund is a legacy of Steve’s love of whales – and stands as a reminder that one man CAN make a difference. I want it to be known all over the world that these projects prove that it is possible to gather biological research about whales, without harming them. It is unacceptable that whale research is still an excuse used to cull whales.”
Mutual interests in conservation resulted in Terri Irwin inviting Mate and his wife to the Australia Zoo, which she owns, to discuss research collaborations.
“Television viewers may not be aware that Terri’s involvement in conservation efforts goes far beyond Australia, literally spanning the world,” said Mate. “She’s helping with conservation projects spanning from saving elephants in Southeast Asia and humpback whales in the Pacific Ocean to Koalas and Tasmanian Devils throughout Australia.
“Australia Zoo also is fairly unique in that there are animal keepers at each exhibit to tell you about the conservation issues of the animals on display, their habitat problems and how we can help,” Mate added.
The agreement will fund two projects on humpback whales and both parties say more research collaboration is possible in the future. The OSU Foundation will receive the funds from Australia Zoo and Wildlife Warriors to support this research.
Humpback whales are on the Endangered Species List in the United States and are listed as “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Redbook.
In September, the OSU research team and Australia Zoo will collaborate on a project to tag up to 25 humpback whales near Unimak Pass at the eastern end of the Aleutian Island chain. During that time, huge concentrations of krill develop in the region, drawing millions of seabirds and hundreds of whales of many species, including the threatened humpback. Scientists believe that the humpbacks that gather in a mixed feeding aggregation in the Bering Sea will depart in the fall to separate breeding grounds off Hawaii and Central America.
The goal of the project is to tag the humpbacks and determine how much they intermingle in the feeding area, and track the timing, route and rate of speed for their migrations back to their respective breeding areas.
“This area is much more accessible than Antarctica, where we believe the same circumstances of intermingling stocks on the feeding grounds likely occurs,” Mate said. “We’ll use this project to develop sound methodology and statistical data that will help guide future studies in the Antarctic.”
In October, the OSU and Australia Zoo team will also travel to the tropical South Pacific where the scientists will tag humpback whales at American Samoa (northeast of Tonga) near the end of their reproductive season and use satellites to track their spring migration to Antarctic feeding grounds.
The research will shed light on the whales’ movements, possibly around the other islands of Oceania and where they go specifically in Antarctica to feed, Mate said.
“This is a little-studied population of humpback whales,” Mate pointed out. “Some of the groups of whales in this region are small and not recovering as well as populations in other areas, so it is important to better understand their movements. Harvesting humpbacks in the ‘wrong’ feeding areas of Antarctica could impede their recovery.”
This study is the first of several planned tagging projects to link the reproductive areas of humpbacks to their feeding areas.
The Marine Mammal Institute is raising new resources for its programs as part of The Campaign for OSU, the university’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign. Guided by OSU’s strategic plan, the campaign seeks $625 million to provide opportunities for students, strengthen the Oregon economy and conduct research that changes the world. Approximately $425 million has been committed to date.