The response of migrating humpback whales to biopsy sampling was investigated off North Stradbroke Island, South East Queensland. Whales were allocated a behavioral category prior to biopsy sampling according to the general behavior of their pod. Behavioral reactions were recorded after each attempt. Sex was determined using a molecular genetic technique.
Detectable reactions occurred in 41.6% of successful biopsy attempts, a significantly lower response rate than that reported by two studies carried out on the feeding and breeding grounds of the North Atlantic. There was no difference in the response rate of whales on their northward or southward migration. Pod size was not an important factor in predicting the response of an individual. Females responded to biopsy sampling at a significantly higher rate than males.
Our results indicate that a substantial difference in response rate can occur between studies. Factors such as the type of boat used and the prior exposure of whales to human impact may be of importance. Our study suggests that female humpback whales may be particularly responsive to human disturbances. Overall, however, biopsy sampling has minimal impact on humpback whales.