Research / Megamouths
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and manta rays (two species of Mobula) are two of the largest fish that on feed on plankton, yet some of the smallest animals in the ocean. Add our recent discovery of the rarely sighted plankton feeding Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai) in far north Queensland, and we have the Megamouths Research Program.
Across the globe, whale shark and manta ray conservation is guided by research conducted at aggregation sites. The northeast coast of Australia, however, is a “black-hole” in terms of global knowledge for these two charismatic plankton feeders, and the importance of the region for the conservation of Asia/West Pacific whale sharks is unknown. Despite sporadic sightings along the east coast of Australia and the Coral Sea, until very recently, no predictable aggregation was known for whale sharks in the region.
In 2019, the Biopixel Oceans Foundation (BOF) team discovered an aggregation site in Wreck Bay, in the far north section of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). This aggregation comprises both sexes, making it demographically unique, as most other whale shark aggregation sites are highly biased towards males. A female shark satellite tagged using a fin-mounted clamp in December 2021 returned to the aggregation site at the same time the following year. Over 18 months later, this is the longest whale shark track using the clamped satellite transmitter method (follow the journey of Ali the whale shark via BioTracker).
Since 2007, the team driving Project Manta has been researching reef manta rays (Mobula Alfredi) at well-known aggregation sites in the southern Queensland. Unfortunately, to date, no aggregation sites have been found in the northern GBR. In 2018, BOF satellite-tagged the first manta ray off Cairns, and this was followed by tagging two others at a feeding aggregation in the Far North GBR in 2021.
Over the years, baleen whales have been sighted in the Far Northern GBR during the summer months. Thanks to recent developments of drone technology and special permits, we were able to positively identify these whales as the understudied Omura’s Whales. We have now recorded lunge feeding and females with young calves in Far North Queensland, making this the second known aggregation site for this species, after Madagascar.
The Megamouth field work is part of our expeditions to remote Far North Queensland. These expeditions are normally muti-purposed, incorporating a number of research and filming objectives. In the past, this has included tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvier and green turtle Chelonia mydas research and filming projects at Raine Island, otherwise known as the largest green turtle nesting site in the world.
BOF is proud to showcase the work of its research collaborators, including the current projects and publications featured below.