Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Lab

Dr Rebecca Dunlop and Assoc Prof Michael Noad are the co-Leaders of the Cetacean Ecology & Acoustic Laboratory, School of Veterinary Science, at University of Queensland.

Michael Noad is originally a veterinarian who went on to do a PhD in humpback whale acoustics at the University of Sydney. He started using Peregian Beach as a research site in 1997 during his PhD. 

Rebecca Dunlop, a native of Northern Ireland, came to Australia in 2003 after completing her PhD on fish behaviour. Together, Noad and Dunlop established the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustic Laboratory (CEAL) at The University of Queensland in 2005. 

Peregian was originally chosen as a field site for work on humpback whales due to the close proximity of whales to shore, especially during the southward migration, and the availability of an elevated site (Emu Mt) with uninterrupted ocean views for tracking the whales’ movements and behaviour. 

Field studies are conducted at Peregian most years, and involve anywhere between 3 and 120 people.CEAL undertakes research on many aspects of the ecology of the east coast population of humpback whales at Peregian Beach. Most studies have a focus on the songs and other acoustic behaviours of the whales, how they are used by the whales for communication and to regulate behaviour, and how they evolve and spread among populations by cultural transmission. Non-song social sounds have also been studied extensively. 

Other work focuses on the impacts of manmade noise on the behaviour of the whales.The objectives of the research are to improve our understanding of how humpback whales use acoustics for communication, and to assess the likely impacts of manmade activities, especially those producing underwater noise, on the behaviour and breeding system of these whales.

Noad and Dunlop have more than 35 years of research experience on humpback whales between them. Their work conducted at Peregian Beach has been world-leading, producing more than 40 peer-reviewed publications. It has also involved collaborators from important domestic and international research bodies including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation, and several other Australian universities. As a result of the work conducted at Peregian Beach, it is not only the most important site for research on humpback whales in Australia, but one of the most important in the world.

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