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Australian Right Whale research


Australian Right Whale Research (ARWR) is committed to researching the endangered and migratory southern right whale species for conservation management. Our research includes population biology, photo identification and underwater acoustics at Head of Bight and Fowlers Bay in the Great Australian Bight, South Australia. In 1991 ARWR established an ongoing annual population monitoring program at Australia's largest southern right whale aggregation ground, Head of Bight. The study addresses the objectives of the Conservation Management Plan for the Southern Right Whale 2011-2022 and outputs are distributed to managers, industry and the public.




  1. Assess southern right whale relative abundance, distribution and life histories.

  2. Investigate movement and connectivity of southern right whales across coastal aggregation grounds in Australia.

  3. Determine the vocal repertoire of southern right whales and use passive acoustic monitoring to assess distribution and movement patterns outside of known aggregation areas.

About Us

dive into our 2022 narrative report

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Southern right whales are large, baleen whales that do not have a dorsal fin, unlike most of their balaenopterid cousins. They have a thick layer of blubber covering their bodies, and adults can reach a maximum length of 18 metres and weigh 80 tonnes, with females generally 1-2m larger than males. Whales reach sexual maturity at an average of 7-9 years of age. 

Southern right whales are listed as an endangered and migratory species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.


Southern right whales are not monogomous and can mate with many partners. On average, a female southern right whale will calve every three to four years.

On the Australian coast, southern right whales are known to use widely separated coastal areas within a season, indicating substantial coast-wide movement.



Southern right whales are monitored annually at Head of Bight and Fowlers Bay through daily census of the aggregation area, to provide information on population trends over time.

Southern right whales have unique callosity patterns that enable us to identify individuals over time to study their life histories, movement and site use. This data provides information for population recovery assessment.

Passive acoustic monitoring of southern right whale calls is used to determine the vocal repertoire of the species, characterise their vocalisations, establish the social context associated with call types, and determine the distribution and movement of southern right whales in southern Australian waters.



Information on relevant reports, publications and recent conference presentations.

To keep up to date with associated media visit our blog.



DR. Stephen

Principle Investigator


Stephen Burnell is the project founder of the long-term Southern Right Whale Population Census and Photo Identification Study at Head of Bight, the company director of Eubalaena Pty Ltd and an honorary associate of the South Australian Museum. Steve pioneered the southern right whale research at Head of Bight in 1991 which formed the basis of his PhD on southern right whale population biology in southern Australia. Steve has over 25 years’ experience in marine mammal biology and has expertise in data management and programming, strategic business planning and management.

A/Prof. robert mccauley



Associate Professor Rob McCauley has been working in the field of bioacoustics and impacts of sound on marine fauna for over 30 years. He is currently based at Curtin University with the Centre for Marine Science and Technology.  Rob has been involved with the GABRWS since 2016 .


Research Scientist/Media

Richard Twist has a degree in marine biology and has always had a passion for the marine environment and wild places. Since starting with the GABRWS in 2014, Rich considers the Head of Bight to be one of the most unique and special places he has ever been, and is motivated by the need to protect it. With a hobby for photography and movie making, Rich is the projects media guru, using his skills to share the results of the study and create awareness.

DR. Claire

Principle Investigator


Claire Charlton is a marine biologist specialising in cetacean population biology and underwater noise. Claire has co-investigated the long term Southern Right Whale Population Census and Photo Identification Study at Head of Bight since 2009,. Claire has over 10 years’ experience in roles with South Australian State Government and private consultancies, undertaking research and environmental impact assessments. 


Research Scientist


Alice Morrison is a research assistant and field technician from Waikato University in New Zealand. Assisting on several cetacean surveys over the last eight years throughout New Zealand and Australia, she has been in the field for the GABRWS as a research scientist since 2016. Alice is interested in population and migration, hoping to find links with New Zealand populations through further research, photo identification and collaboration.


Research Scientist/Volunteer Coordinator

Bridgette O’Shannessy is a zoologist with an interest in marine biology. Bridgette is a research scientist and volunteer coordinator for the GABRWS, having first joined the study at Head of Bight in 2019. Bridgette is assisting with the CSIRO NESP funded project, which aims to create a national southern right whale catalogue within the Australian Right Whale Photo-Identification Catalogue (AWRPIC) software. Bridgette has an interest in supporting and expanding the GABRWS project focusing on education through volunteer and community engagement. 

dr. Rhianne

Co-Investigator/Acoustics Lead


Rhianne Ward is a marine biologist specialising in underwater acoustics and cetacean communication. Rhianne completed her PhD on great whale vocalisations in southern Australian waters, including the first description of southern right whale vocalisations in Australian waters. Rhianne became involved in the Southern Right Whale Population Census and Photo ID study at Head of Bight in 2013, and is now a co-investigator and the acoustics lead of the GABRWS.


Research Scientist


Olivia Marsh is an environmental and marine scientist specialising in cetacean population biology. Olivia became involved with the GABRWS in 2018, working as a research assistant in the field and in Perth. Olivia  furthered her studies at Flinders University, investigating emerging calving grounds of the southern right whale species, and looking at connectivity between southern right whale populations along the southern Australian coastline.


Research Scientist

Emily Gregory is a marine ecologist specialising in cetacean bioenergetics and health. Emily became involved with the GABRWS in 2019 assisting with a global, standardized and IWC-endorsed protocol for conducting visual health assessments of southern right whales, and in the field at Head of Bight since 2020. Emily completed her Honours research exploring drone technology for morphological assessments of Australia’s east coast humpbacks.


GIS Consultant


Annie Charlton is a GIS consultant and provides invaluable support to the GAB Right Whale Study Team. Annie specialists in spatial mapping, species distribution and density plots. Annie has also participated in field work and logistics for the GABRWS since 2014.

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Australian Right Whale Research

Curtin University, Kent Street, Bentley WA 6102

Head of Bight Whale Interpretive Centre, Eyre Highway, Nullabor SA 5690


Dr. Claire Charlton 

- Principle Investigator

CMST, Curtin University

Current Environmental

E -

M - (+61) 476 146 394

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