Living Ocean Centre for Marine Studies

Coastal Research

The Living Ocean Centre for Marine Studies fosters collaboration with the community and a wide range of organisations to connect people to their ocean and advance our understanding of the sea and its creatures.  We see this as a place for you to visit, learn, share, investigate and even teach.  And of course to have fun!

You can take part in exciting field research programs such as our Shoreline Surveys and Humpback Whale Tracking and Behavioural Study. We are also eager to develop a schools education program.

To promote the study of marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals, the Centre also offers an annual research grant for the best original project proposed.

All these things are possible via a rich collaborative Living Ocean website that lets everyone – wherever they are and at any time –  join in, browse, debate hot topics of interest and share documents and photos.

The Living Ocean Centre for Marine Studies builds upon the expertise of the Whale and Seal Foundation (WSF), which merged into Living Ocean in 2014.  WSF brought into Living Ocean experienced whale researchers and educators, including several of the most experienced whale rescue specialists in Australia. For many years WSF volunteers trained the NSW National Parks Service, Australian National Parks, Water Police and other organisations in the rescue of stranded and entangled whales.

Through study, awareness and community involvement we aim to nurture our ocean environment and give its creatures a voice.

Whale Research

Living Ocean researchers and volunteers study, from sea and land, the humpback whales that migrate along Australia’s East Coast each year. The study – licensed by State and Commonwealth agencies including an Ethics Committee –  continues an innovative research program that our team began in 2004.

In a small boat the team typically locates a group of humpback whales and accompanies them on their migratory path for several hours, studying their movements, behaviour, interactions with vessels and environmental conditions. Where other researchers may attach satellite transponders to a single whale and track it over long distances, our research method is to track and study large numbers of whales in a single geographic area. This is done completely non-invasively, at a distance, with the aid of a purpose-built computer application that calculates positions and connects to the boat’s instruments.

In a new departure this year, we will be using drone-borne aerial cameras to record humpback behaviour in an unprecedented way.

Studying these whales teaches us about their needs.  This in turn helps with their recovery, for example through stronger legislation based on cold facts. Over the last few years our data has starkly revealed that areas off Sydney proposed for commercial sand mining are high-use areas for whales.

In another exciting research project, Living Ocean has been collaborating with Sea Shepherd Australia to study poorly-understood whale abundances in the Southern Ocean.

Antarctic Plastics Study

In another major research project, Living Ocean is investigating the extent of plastic pollution in the Antarctic by studying the ingestion of plastics by marine life caught or entangled in fishing gear.

This will be a health check on the Southern Ocean, the engine room of the world’s ecosystem.

In collaboration with Sea Shepherd’sOperation Icefish’ Living Ocean scientists Colette Harmsen, Bia Figueiredo and Jake Parker aboard the Sam Simon will dissect and study dead Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, seabirds and other marine life that has fallen foul of illegal toothfish fishing in international Antarctic waters.

The collaboration also includes a recognised world authority on plastic ingestion by seabirds, Dr Jennifer Lavers of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Tasmania. Dr Lavers will perform further, land-based, analysis on plastic samples collected with a view to publication in scientific journals.

From Northern Hemisphere researchers: plastic found in the stomach of a single dead seabird (a petrel) Patagonian toothfish live at depths of up to 3.5km in temperatures of 1º-4ºC and can weigh 100kg.

The research is being conducted in accordance with Antarctic scientific research permits issued to Living Ocean by the Australian Government.

Nesting black-browed albatross


Shearwater Die-off Suggests Big Problems in the Ocean

The mass wash-up of enormous numbers of dead shearwaters on our beaches is a deeply worrying sign for the health of our oceans. Strong evidence is emerging that this is not a matter of unfavourable winds: instead it is showing that the birds, in their thousands, are not finding enough to eat before and after their non-stop migrations of around 18 days from the Bering Sea to Australia.
In Sydney’s Pittwater and Northern Beaches area, Living Ocean is participating in a long-term
study ranging across Australia and the South Pacific, coordinated by Dr Jennifer Lavers, Research Fellow at the Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies in Tasmania.
Trained volunteers from Living Ocean — true Citizen Scientists — are studying dead shearwaters on local beaches during the die-off weeks, sending collated results to Dr Lavers for inclusion in her analysis.

Patagonian toothfish live at depths of up to 3.5km in temperatures of 1º-4ºC and can weigh 100kg.

If you would like to be involved in this important study, please call Bill on +61 419 220 141 for more information.

Our Research Team

Living Ocean members have opportunities to join our research team on land or sea.

Bill Fulton
Bill Fulton

Bill Fulton

Leading the Centre for Marine Studies is Bill Fulton. Bill has been studying and rescuing whales since 1986. He feels incredibly fortunate to have had extended opportunities to learn from legendary research pioneer the late Dr William Dawbin DSc, who had earlier pieced together the annual migration routes of humpback whales.

Bill facilitated the introduction to Australia of revolutionary methods for whale disentanglement, now adopted in all States, and served as president of the whale rescue organisation Orrca for a number of years.

Sam Barripp
Sam Barripp

Sam Barripp

Sam Barripp also presided at Orrca, participating in hazardous Zodiac-based whale disentanglement operations and many strandings. Since 2004 he has co-led the humpback research program that is now being continued in Living Ocean. With Bill he presented on our research methods at a biennial conference of the international Society for Marine Mammalogy in Capetown.

Robbi Newman
Robbi Newman

Robbi Newman

Over 40 years extensive experience in the international image and photo market working for many of the major Airlines, Tourist Boards, Advertising Agencies, Governments and Corporations of the world. Has a global and universal outlook, preferring to see the world as borderless and full of life set against the extrordinary physical palette of this planet. Studied environmental science and has worked as an environment writer for surf based magazines. Currently exploring the use of drones to capture sea based wildlife. Co founder of Living Ocean. Long time surfer and lover of the oceans.