Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 8 2009 Contents 27
joint initiative between Navy
and the Defence science and
(DsTO) to research the effects
of naval activities on marine
life in the coral sea has
been recognised with a
2009 environment and Heritage Award.
The study focused on finding the distribution
of marine mammals – especially Longman’s Beaked
Whale – and the effects of sonar in parts of the
Coral Sea used during Exercise Talisman Saber.
Navy dispatched HMAS Labuan with a
group of six scientists on board to undertake a
whale reconnaissance mission for the second
year in a row.
The scientists were from DSTO, Curtin
University, the University of Queensland and the
Navy’s Environment Manager Commander
(CMDR) Steve Cole said that beaked whales had
been recognised as potentially vulnerable to the
effects of underwater sound.
“We know very little about this species so
Navy has again taken a very proactive approach to
go out and look at them,” CMDR Cole said.
“It is essential for us to understand the
distribution of the species to ensure we can take
this into account during our exercise planning.
“When the results from the survey
are analysed it will assist us to tailor our
environmental management and minimise future
exercise’s impact on the whales.”
Operating 200 nautical miles east of
Gladstone, off the Queensland coast, the scientists
worked from a make-shift office, an empty shipping
container on the tank deck of the boat.
The Commanding Officer of HMAS Labuan,
Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Warren Wood,
said the scientists were fully integrated with the
“I considered the scientists as part of the
ship’s company, completely integrated as if they
were in uniform,” LCDR Wood said.
“My sailors took a very active interest by
participating in the data collection exercise and
then we had the scientists doing watch on the
bridge and washing up in the galley.”
During the 17 days of visual observations,
the scientists took more than 500 hours of digital
recordings and made more than 75 sightings of
marine mammals (with a total of 526 individual
mammals), six of which were individual sightings
of beaked whales.
The study created several firsts in Australia:
■ the first study to actively seek beaked whales
■ the first confirmed beaked whale vocalisations
recorded in Australian waters, and
■ the first combined visual and acoustic
detections of beaked whales.
The equipment used to record sightings and
vocalisations was complex and expensive and
included two floating data loggers and a towed
acoustic recording array.
“The recording devices were suspended
in 400 metres of water and were specifically
designed for this particular job,” LCDR Wood said.
“I was really pleased with the job that
the crew did in deploying and recovering the
equipment without a single incident.”
LCDR Wood added that one of the biggest
challenges during the exercise was to keep
everyone focused on the task.
“It was difficult to find a balance between
collecting and analysing the data and maintaining
the normal operational needs of the ship, but
everyone was kept motivated by knowing that they
were contributing to this important project,” LCDR
“We held education sessions during lunchtime
where one of the sailors and a scientist were given
a speech to present and we had regular quiz nights
these all contributed to keeping morale levels
high. A ship’s concert at the end of the research
was a memorable way to close the tasking.
“By having the scientists on board, we learned
a lot about the environment and marine ecology
generally but now we have all gained a detailed
knowledge about whale species.
“We see whales all the time when we are
out to sea and they often come close to the ship.
During this project we were cruising the humpback
highway and sightings were common.
LCDR Wood did not specifically consider that
he would be directly involved in environmental
management when he joined the Navy, but
considering the environment is now something
that he does every day.
“I am expected to manage the risk to the
environment in everything we do onboard,” LCDR
“We use an environmental checklist when
undertaking many activities that may occur in
the ordinary course of business such as firing a
weapon or putting a boat in the water.
The environment award recognised the
collaboration between DSTO and the ship,
enabling Defence to remain at the forefront of
research of underwater sound on marine life.
The citation on the Award noted that the use
of sonar is, and will remain, a priority capability for
the Navy, so adequate management and mitigation
of its environmental impact is essential.
LCDR Wood said that supporting the Beaked
Whale trial was certainly one of the more unusual
tasks given to HMAS Labuan in the past year.
“Operating in the open sea 200 nautical miles
off the coast at times was always likely to present
some challenges, but the weather was kind to us
and the crew did a fantastic job,” LCDR Wood said.
“We all thoroughly enjoyed hosting the
scientists – and assisting in such a worthwhile
project. The continuity we have enjoyed through
participating in this trial for the second year
in a row ensured we worked smart to achieve
great results that will help Navy’s environmental
“I was very pleased I was able to accept this
award on behalf of everyone involved. It was an
excellent project to demonstrate the flexibility of
the crew, and I know that those involved would not
hesitate to be involved in anything like this again,”
LCDR Wood said.
The acoustic and visual data analysis from the
survey is ongoing and this will be used for future
exercise planning, to further decrease possible
impacts on the marine environment from Navy
activities and inform the planning for Exercise
Talisman Saber 2011.
Beaked whale project
highlights vital research
By Leila Daniels
defence magazine ›
Links Archive Issue 7 2009 Issue 9 2009 Navigation Previous Page Next Page