Biodiversity Assessment of Marine Mammals in Victoria, Australia

Dr Kate Charlton-Rob examines Fin whale ©MMF

Biodiversity Assessment of Marine Mammals in Victoria, Australia

Stranding and sighting records are used to determine the composition of marine mammals in Victorian waters across space and time.

We aim to combine thousands of stranding and sighting records to determine the composition of marine mammals in Victorian waters across space and time.

Overview

Victoria, Australia, is part of the South East Australian Marine Region, which is known for its biodiversity and endemism worldwide, however there is limited compiled information on the biodiversity of marine mammals within the state. Understanding marine mammal assemblages is becoming increasingly important, as our knowledge of the intrinsic value these taxa have on the structure and function of ecosystems globally continues to expand. As a whole, marine mammals fill a broad range of ecological niches, ranging greatly in size, habitat, and feeding at a variety of trophic levels, as primary consumers to apex predators. Some are migratory and can be found in almost all oceans and seas throughout the world, whilst others are restricted to the continental shelf or have resident populations with geographically distinct distributions.

In order to comprehend the role that this diverse group play in an ecosystem, we must first understand the biodiversity, temporal and spatial incidence. Whilst dedicated surveys provide the most in-depth information on species presence and abundance, it has been found that demographic, genetic and diversity information can be obtained from stranding records, as long as the area is large and records are kept over long periods of time (Meager & Sumpton 2015). For data deficient species such as beaked whales, strandings provide the primary data source for information (Lloyd and Ross, 2015). Standings being beach-cast animals, dead or alive, and sightings include at-sea observations of whales, dolphins, or seals/sea lions, as well as haul-outs for seals/sea lions.

The sighting and stranding records of Victoria have historically been stored in numerous databases within various organisations. With a lack of compiled data our ability to understand, measure, monitor or predict changes to marine mammal composition, now and into the future, is very much limited. In this study, we aim to extend our knowledge of marine mammal biodiversity within Victoria, collating historical to current marine mammal records for the region, and assess the temporal and spatial patterns and trends.

This project in done in affiliation with Museums Victoria, DELWP and MMF.

Aims

  • Collate the strandings records in Victoria to assess the biodiversity of marine mammals
  • Assess temporal and spatial trends in marine mammal stranding in Victoria to look for patterns in space and time.

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