GOLD COAST, QUEENSLAND – The Humpback Highway is experiencing rush hour in the waters off Queensland’s Gold Coast, as the massive marine mammals make their epic annual migration from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef.
In the middle of the incredible spectacle is Griffith University’s Dr Jan-Olaf Meynecke, who spends his days collecting snot samples from whales.
Collecting mucous from a marine mammal weighing more than 30,000 kilograms isn’t a simple process, but with the help of drones it’s now possible.
“We have a small drone and that drone actually has a Petri dish in between its legs. We let that drone fly over the whales to collect the mucous from the whale’s blowhole,” says Dr Meynecke.
Getting the timing right to capture the whale’s mucus in a Petri dish carried by a drone is a big part of the challenge.
Dr Meynecke says “To be able to know when to capture the snot takes a little bit of time. We need to observe the whale, sometimes for almost half an hour because everything needs to be just right.”
Dr Meynecke has embarked upon the unusual research practice to discover the current health of the Humpback Whale population, which has grown from 500 to 20,000 since commercial whaling ended in the 1960’s.
“Basically we get information about the DNA that’s in the whales. When the whale blows out, it blows out the information about who they are. So in other words we can determine if (they are) male or female or other genetic prints that they have.”
The whale loogie’s are taken back to Griffith University’s Smart Water Research Institute on the Gold Coast where it’s hoped the DNA findings will help continue the growth of the Humpback Whale population.
Dr Meynecke’s unusual research and methods are all part of the experience for whale watchers.
“It’s kind of unusual but its pretty amazing what science can do these days.” says Cathy Rowland a visitor from Ireland who spent the day whale watching with Dr Meynecke on board Whales in Paradise, to tick off one of an item on her bucket list
“We saw lots of whales, fins and tails. Something we’ve always wanted to do, so it lived up to our expectations as well.”
The Gold Coast isn’t just a holiday destination for humans, on their 10,000-kilometre migration the Humpbacks themselves have a vacation in the inviting waters, resting and socialising, even giving birth along the stretch of coast during the winter months.
Dr Meynecke and his team of students and researchers not only collect boogers from blow holes, they also observe the whales behaviours to try and unlock their many secrets.
“We’re not just collecting the mucous which in itself is a big mission, we’re also looking at the behaviour of the animals and their migration pattern. We use flukes to identify individuals and we are listening to whales as well, so we capture their sound and try to find out what their current behaviour is,” says Dr Meynecke.
Born in the Netherlands Dr Meynecke is now based on the Gold Coast, a paradise for a marine researcher. If he’s not on the water studying, he’s in it surfing each day.
“There is a big incentive to work here because it is paradise. It’s such a beautiful place in the world, where the water is always clean and blue and there is always such amazing marine wildlife. It’s a dream for a marine biologist.”
0:00 Drone footage of whales breaching and coming to surface of the water.
0:57 Tourists on board whale watching boat.
1:15 Whale coming to the surface – view from boat.
1:33 Tourists watching dolphins swim along boat
1:47 Whales coming to the surface – view from boat.
1:57 Tourists taking photos of whales
2:10 Dr Meynecke taking photos.
2:25 Whale coming to the surface – view from boat.
2:35 Dr Meynecke taking photos.
2:44 Whale breaching.
2:50 Releasing drone.
2:55 Drone footage of whales.
3:19 Drone flying past whale as it comes to the surface.
3:30 Footage of drone approaching whale.
3:43 Drone being captured by researchers on boat.
3:56 Dr Meynecke with petri dish onboard boat.
4:12 View of Gold Coast beach and surf.
4:24 Tractor pulling research boat along beach.
4:36 Group of researchers cruising in boat in search of whales.
5:05 Releasing drone.
5:10 Researcher flying drone.
5:22 Drone hovering on water.
5:31 “It’s a small hydrophone to listen to the whale vocalizing.” Upsot from Dr Meynecke.
5:36 Dropping hydrophone in to the water.
5:41 Whale song upsot from hydrophone.
6:10 “That is just amazing guys because so this would be a single male singing, but we’re right above him literally right above him so very unique.” Upsot from Dr Meynecke on board boat reacting to whale song.
6:23 “It’s really cool.” Researcher on boat reacting to whale song.
6:26 Dr Meynecke in laboratory working on samples from petri dishes.
Interview with Dr Meynecke
7:04 Basically we get information about the DNA that’s in the whales so basically when the whale blows out it blows out the information who they are. So in other words we can determine if male or female or other genetic prints that they have.
Interview with Tourists Philip Bredin and Cathy Rowland from Ireland.
7:22 (Cathy) It’s kind of unusual but its pretty amazing what science can do these days not the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard but still pretty unusual.
7:31 (Cathy) We saw lots of whales fins and tales and generally awesome. Something we’ve always wanted to do so lived up to our expectations as well.
Interview with Dr Meynecke
7:48 We have a small drone and that drone actually has a petrie dish in between its legs and we let that drone fly over the whales to collect the mucous the blow from the whales.
8:00 Grab from Dr Meynecke again in German?
8:21 We’re not just collecting the mucous which in itself is a big mission but we’re also looking at the behaviour of the animals their migration pattern we’re looking at individuals who we use flukes to identify individuals and we are listening to whales as well so we capture their sound and try to find out what their current behaviour is.
8:43 There is a big incentive to work here because it is paradise being on such a beautiful place in the world where the water is always clean and blue and there is always such amazing marine wildlife it is a dream for a marine biologist.
9:00 Grab from Dr Meynecke again in German?
9:12 To be able to know when to capture the snot it takes a little bit of time we need to observe the whale for sometimes almost half an hour because everything needs to be right.
Interview with Abbey Korman – Student Researcher from Washington DC.
9:22 I think it makes it easier to understand how important it is and helping out and just being like really on the boat recording data really cool to know that you’re helping.