Researcher biography

Michael Noad graduated with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science from UQ in 1990. After working primarily as a small animal vet in Queensland and the UK, Mike returned to Australia to undertake a PhD in humpback whale acoustic behaviour at the University of Sydney in 1995. In 2002, after finishing his PhD, Mike became a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Integraitve Biology at UQ. In 2003 he was employed as a lecturer in the School of Veterinary Science. He is currently a professor at UQ, dividing his time between veterinary science, where he teaches anatomy, and marine science, the focus of his research. In 2019 he became the Academic Director of the Moreton Bay Research Station, and in 2022 the Director of the Centre for Marine Science while still retaining a substantive apointment in the School of Veterinary Science.


The key areas of Mike's research are the effects of anthopogenic underwater noise on whales, the evolution and function of humpback whale song, social learning and culture in animals, and marine mammal population ecology. With regards to the effects of anthropogenic underwater noise on whales, there is currently a great deal of concern about how anthropogenic noise such as military sonar, oil and gas exploration activity and commercial shipping traffic, may adversely affect marine mammals. Mike has been involved in several large collaborative projects in this area, the largest being BRAHSS where the team studied the behavioural changes of humpback whales in response to powerful seismic airguns. His work on the evolution and function of humpback whale song is focused on how the animals themselves use sound to communicate. The songs of these whales is one of the most complex acoustic displays of any animal known. The songs are not static, but constantly change, and although the songs are almost certainly used as a sexual signal, the changing nature of the song makes understanding how this works challenging. His work on social learning and culture in animals also involves humpback whale songs, but focuses on how the whales learn the songs from each other, both within and between populations. As the patterns are usually unique to a population but can be transmitted over time to other populations, humpback song is the most extreme example of a vocal cultural trait in any species as well as an excellent model for studying social learning, the process whereby the whales perceive and learn new songs. Mike's last research area is marine mammal population ecology, and the primary project is the population ecology of the east Australian humpback whales. This population was almost completely extirpated in the early 1960s through hunting, but has since undergone a rapid recovery. Its long term trajectory, however, is uncertain due to a number of factors including possibly overshooting the natural carrying capacity of the population, and climate change.