Threatened species of the north west

Researchers are investigating the impact of petroleum exploration and development on threatened species, including green turtles (pictured).

Australia’s north west is home to some of our most iconic marine animals; however a large number of whales, dugongs, sea turtles, and sharks are listed as threatened or endangered. To manage potential threats from industrial activities on these animals, we need to understand where the populations are, where they move and the key areas they use to breed and feed. We can then better understand where they overlap with human activities and manage accordingly.


Whales have been known to collide with ships. This risk increases where there are more vessels in the same vicinity as animal groups. This study is using information on vessel activity and movement with information on whale movement to identify ‘hotspots’ of overlap between the animals and vessels.

Pygmy blue whales, a subspecies of the blue whale, are listed nationally as endangered. Little is known about their migration pathways as their secretive behaviour has made them difficult to study with traditional techniques. This project is tracking the whales using three methods - satellite images, following their vocalisations using underwater microphones and analysing water samples for their DNA.


Green turtles and hawksbill turtles face a number of threats, including getting tangled in fishing gear, habitat loss and turtle hatchlings being confused by light. In this study, researchers are studying the risks posed to turtles from industrial activities (such as seismic surveys) and infrastructure (such as oil and gas platforms, shipping channels and pipelines).

To understand where these wide-ranging turtles roam, researchers are following them from space by attaching satellite tags to individual turtles. These tracks identify the areas they use over 18 months, and will be compared to the areas of human activities, highlighting where both overlap.

AIMS theme leader Dr Michele Thums explains how her team are tracking turtles in Australia's north west.