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Three quarters of the Australian population lives within 50km of the coast and we take over 100,000 tonnes of seafood from the sea each year. The ocean is a great point of recreation, but much of our society’s waste also ends up there. This interdependent relationship is also difficult to manage as most of the impacts are unseen or seen only after a significant delay. Our staff engage in research to better understand marine biology, marine fauna needs and how the human and marine communities interact.

The Australian Marine Mammals Research Centre (AMMRC) conducts research focusing on the biology, importance and conservation of marine mammals. AMMRC was established in 1996 as collaboration between the Taronga Conservation Society Australia and the University of Sydney and now includes the University of New South Wales. Most programs at AMMRC are a combination of captive-based and field-based work. This combination has proved to be an efficient and effective method of assessing difficult questions for wild animals, as well as providing behavioural enrichment and new health care techniques for captive animals.

Case Studies

Leopard Seal Nutrition Mapping Project (AMMRC)

Using the zoo’s population, techniques have been developed to determine the diet of Leopard Seals over the last century. Whisker samples taken from zoo-based and free-ranging animals and museum specimens will provide information on changes in diet over the decades as an index of environmental change.

Vocal tutoring in Leopard Seals (AMMRC)

Male Leopard Seals sing prior to and during the breeding season to attract females and signal territorial defence to males over great distances. Adult male songs were played to our pair at Taronga to examine the impact on the repertoire of a sub-adult male and on the behaviour of our pair during the breeding season.  

Impact of Tourist Vessels on Whale Behaviour (MSC)

With Collaborators from Macquarie University, surfacing characteristics of migrating Humpback Whales passing Sydney were observed in relation to the presence and behaviour of whale watching vessels. This project will provide baseline scientific evidence for the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching 2005 and the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Marine Mammals) Regulation).

Current Projects

Objective Estimates of Seal Body Mass (AMMRC)

Accurately assessing body mass is important for the interpretation of ecological, physiological and behavioural patterns of individuals and populations, and is essential to ensuring that safe doses of drugs are used. Accurate mass assessment on moving ice flows that are some distance away can be extremely difficult. Our captive seals are weighed regularly for routine management. These data are being used to validate 3D photographic imaging to develop a reliable technique of assessing body mass from photographs taken in the field.

Adrenal Activity of Sea-lions (MSC)

Changes in adrenal activity of Taronga’s Zoo-based Sea-lions is being measured non-invasively using faecal hormone concentrations to determine optimal techniques for assessing adverse reactions to changing management and environmental conditions in free-ranging populations of Sea-lions.

Shark Attack Probability (ASAF)

Data collected over 30 years by the Australian Shark Attack File are being collated and analysed to assess shark behaviour and determine environmental conditions that correlate with frequent shark attacks. The data examines many environmental factors such as day-length, water temperature, tide visibility and food availability. It may be useful in predicting conditions favourable to shark presence and the file advises people against specific behaviour and activities that may place them at risk.