Dr Pete Gill (pictured above, at right) became involved in whale research and deepwater sailing in 1983 after several years as a rural worker in the Australian bush. For years Pete assisted Dr Bill Dawbin, the ‘grandfather’ of humpback whale research, in studies of humpback migration and song before branching out into his own studies of humpback migration. These studies took him to the waters around the Coral Sea, New Caledonia and the coast of Tasmania.
More sailing adventures were on the horizon. In 1989, Pete skippered the 20m schooner A & V Thistlethwayte in a scientific circumnavigation of Australia, the Oceanic Research Foundation’s “In the Wake of Flinders” expedition. Among other studies, this voyage extended the known distribution of breeding humpback whales to the northernmost point of the Kimberley coast, well north of the previous presumed limit around Broome.
The Antarctic region has been a central part of Pete’s evolving knowledge and understanding of whale biology and ecology. He has visited Antarctica 13 times: on private sailing expeditions including Riquita’s voyage to the Ross Sea in 1986, the Mount Minto Bicentennial (mountaineering) Expedition aboard the Thistlethwayte in 1988, and the Iniquity Antarctic Whale Project in 1993; on whale surveys aboard the Australian government icebreaker Aurora Australis; and as a lecturer, boat driver and guide on Antarctic tourist expeditions with World Expeditions and Aurora Expeditions, to the Ross Sea and East Antarctica. Pete assisted Dr Deb Thiele in initiating the first Antarctic cetacean ecological research program on board the Aurora Australis during the mid-1990s.
In the 1990’s, Pete also worked with Greenpeace Australia as Marine Mammal Researcher, trying to build bridges between NGOs, scientists and users of the sea, meanwhile continuing his humpback whale research. He also assisted in a Sydney University southern right whale research program at the Head of Bight (South Australia) and in Western Australia. To support his research and expedition activities, Pete worked for over 15 years as a home handyman, part-time writer and photographer.
The story of how Pete ‘discovered’ the blue whale foraging ground off southern Australia is told on the Our Story page. This is now the longest running blue whale research program in the Southern Hemisphere. Pete lives in coastal bushland near Portland, Victoria with his wife Susie and son Felix, close to the blue whales and his primary study area, the Bonney Upwelling.
Pete has authored numerous books, book chapters, scientific papers and magazine articles. His books include the Reader’s Digest Explores Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (with Linda Gibson), the Nature Company Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (with Mark Carwardine, Erich Hoyt and Ewan Fordyce), and Whale Watching in Australian and New Zealand Waters (with Cecilia Burke, now in its 4th edition). His photographs have appeared in numerous books, and he has lectured widely on whales, whaling and Antarctica.