Shell funded research for more than a decade into the behaviour of humpback whales in the South Atlantic, which has given scientists unprecedented insights.

Before the research project began in 2003, little was known about the routes they used during their long migration to and from cold waters near Antarctica. Electronic tagging showed the whales regularly swim along the north-east coast of South America almost as far north as the Equator.

“Our studies revealed that the routes used by whales most frequently along the Brazilian coast do not correspond to the areas of exploration and production of oil,” says Alexandre Zerbini, Director of the Scientific Institute Aqualie, a Brazilian non-profit organisation.

In the waters off Brazil, the humpback whales migrate close to the beaches, where water is up to 500 metres deep, whereas most platforms are located far from the coast.

Sighting surveys have shown that an estimated 22,000 humpback whales — nearly three times as many as previously thought — spend the breeding season off Brazil. “Such relatively large numbers are an indication that this population is healthy,” said the report. 

Shell Brasil funded the project which was managed by Instituto Aqualie with the co-operation of research organisations in Brazil, Denmark and the USA. Research results were published in several scientific journals.

Previously it was believed that environmental variation in feeding areas forced the whales off the Brazilian coast to seek alternative routes. But, thanks to the collaboration, researchers discovered within just two years that the whales follow the same migration route year after year.

“Shell’s support to the programme reflects the importance of environmental preservation and scientific knowledge,” said Shell Licensing and Environment Manager Brazil, Anídio Corrêa. “It is finding ways to help minimise the potential impacts of its activities in the region."

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