'Whalecam' captures secret life of Antarctic humpbacks

A unique look into the life of a humpback whale off Antarctica has been released, with small camera tags capturing their life.

Video from the cameras, released by the Australian Antarctic Division, shows the great mammals lunging and diving at krill in the water off the Antarctic Peninsula, the continent's most northern point.

As well as providing visual insight into the species' hunting habits, each of the tags record the whale's movements, including time and depth of its dives.

The camera tags are held on by suction cups and only last around a day before falling off, whale scientist Dr Elanor Bell said.

"We were deploying those on the sleepy logging whale at the surface. We'd sort of creep up to them in the boat [and] we'd slap a tag on their back," she said.

After around 24 hours, the tags fall off the whales and are retrieved and reused by the scientists.

The result is a fresh, non-invasive look into the whales' secret feeding habits.

A humpback whale with a whale cam tag (Dr Elanor Bell / Australian Antarctic Division)
A humpback whale with a whale cam tag (Dr Elanor Bell / Australian Antarctic Division)

"The non-lethal research methods allow us to determine how krill abundance affects the feeding success of whales and how any change in krill population due to climate change, commercial fishing, or ocean acidification, may impact the mammals into the future," said Dr Ari Friedlander, the study's lead collaborator.

While the tags used on the humpbacks only attached for a short time, longer-term tags are being used on the smaller minke whales.

The LIMPET tags track and transmit the data for around two months - which is more suitable for the tricky creatures.

"Minkes are faster and more elusive than humpback whales and often forage in areas with lots of sea ice. This makes it challenging to find and approach them to deploy tracking equipment," Dr Bell said.

"We want to understand what they need, and how these climate changes or these other anthropogenic changes might impact the whales in the future."