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Professor Rob Harcourt



E8A 272
Department of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Science
Macquarie University NSW 2109

Contact Details

Phone: +61-2-9850-7970
Email: robert.-harcourtmq.-edu.-au
Fax: +61-2-9850-7972


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I started snorkelling at age four and knew right there and then I wanted to be a marine biologist. I was an undergraduate at Adelaide University and was lucky enough to be awarded a place at Cambridge in England for my PhD. For my PhD thesis I got to go to Peru for two fantastic years to study South American fur seals. While I was there we had a severe El Niño year with a massive mortality for many marine predators including seals. Witnessing this overwhelming influence of El Niño on the otherwise highly productive Peruvian marine ecosystem first hand, left me with a deep impression of the importance of focussing on environmental variability if we are to understand natural systems and the strategies animals have evolved to cope with them.

After Cambridge I worked in Scotland, the USA and Mexico with seals, dolphins and whales, then onto a postdoc at the University of Otago in New Zealand on New Zealand fur seals and Adelie penguins. I came back to Australia 15 years ago and set up what was the Marine Mammal Research Group- now the Marine Predator Research group, where I have worked  and continue to work with some great people on a whole range of marine wildlife.

In my spare time I am a keen bodysurfer, kayaker and scuba diver and dedicated underwater photographer. I am also learning to ride a longboard, slowly....

Research Interest

Animal Behaviour and Ecology My main interests revolve around the importance of individual variation in behaviour to foraging, communication, mating tactics and life experience. Recently much of my research has focused on individual differences and evolutionary mechanisms, combining observation and experimental manipulation of behaviour in the field with genetic methods. My second major thrust has been the use of technology to 'open a window' into the world of large marine predators. We were the first team to successfully deploy satellite transmitters on otariid seals and wintering Adelie penguins and have developed methods of measuring and interpreting dive data in two and three dimensions. This research has helped transform our understanding of how warm-blooded animals cope with environmental extremes as they forage and breed in the marine environment. Since 2006 I have been Facility  Leader for the Australian Animal Tagging and Monitoring System (AATAMS)  a national initiative to observe large marine life, see

Biological Conservation Members of the MMRG have made valuable contributions to conservation of large marine vertebrates including sharks, seals, and whales. A small sample of recent work includes conservation of grey nurse and wobbegong sharks, managing human impacts and disturbance on wildlife, whale and dolphin stock structure. Apart from academic output we directly contribute to conservation in a hands-on fashion. We have drafted species recovery plans for the Federal Government, provided expert comment to many groups including state and federal government, NGOs and the United Nations Environment Program, made Expert Witness appearances in court, sat on Ecological Risk Assessment Technical panels and authored public submissions.


Program Co-ordinator for the Masters of Conservation Biology

Convene or co-convene:

Publications since 2006

1.     Lee, K., Huveneers, C., Gimenez, O., Peddemors, V., Harcourt, RG (in press) To catch or to sight? A comparison of demographic parameter estimates obtained from mark-recapture and mark-resight models. Biodiversity and Conservation (Accepted 15 Feb 2014).

2.     Viddi, F., Harcourt R. (in press) Behaviour of Chilean and Peale’s dolphins in southern Chile: interspecific variability of sympatric species. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (Accepted 27 Jan 2014).

3.     Carroll, G., Hedley, S., Bannister, J., Ensor, P., Harcourt, R. 2014. No evidence for recovery in the population of sperm whale bulls off Western Australia, 30 years post-whaling. Endangered Species Research doi:10.3354/esr00584.

4.     Roquet, F., Wunsch, C., Forget, G., Heimbach, P., Guinet, C., Reverdin, G., Charrassin, J-B., Bailleul, F., Cotsa, D., Huckstadt, L., Goetz, K., Kovacs, K., Lydersen, C., Biuw, M., Nost, O.,Bornemann, H., Ploetz, J., Bester, M., McIntyre, T., Muelbert, M., Hindell, M., McMahon, C., Williams, G., Harcourt, R., Field, I., Boehme, L., Fedak, M. 2013 Estimates of the Southern Ocean General Circulation Improved by Animal-Borne Instruments. Geophysical Research Letters, Ocean DOI:10.1002/2013GL058304

5.     Lee, K., Huveneers, C.M., McDonald, T.M., Harcourt, R.G. 2014. Size isn’t everything: movements, home range, and habitat preferences of eastern blue gropers (Achoerodus viridis) demonstrate the efficacy of a small marine reserve" Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2431.

6.     Desprez, M., McMahon, C., Hindell, M., Harcourt, R., Gimenez, O. 2013. Known unknowns in an imperfect world: incorporating uncertainty in recruitment estimates using multi-event capture-recapture models. Ecology and Evolution doi: 10.1002/ece3.846

7.     Momigliano, P., Harcourt, R. (2014) The science-law disconnect. in Sharks: Conservation, Governance and Management Klein, N., Techera, E. (eds). Earthscan. (accepted Sep 2013).

8.     Lynch, T.P., Harcourt, R., Edgar, G., Barrett, N. 2013. Conservation of the Critically Endangered eastern Australian population of the grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) through cross-jurisdictional management of a network of marine protected areas. Environmental Management. DOI 10.1007/s00267-013-0174-x

9.     Kessler, M., Harcourt, R., Bradford, W. (in press). Will whale watchers modify personal experience to minimise harm to whales? Tourism in Marine Environments (accepted 13 August 2013).

10.  Harcourt, R. Marsh, H., Slip, D., Chilvers, L., Noad, M., Dunlop, R. (in press). Marine mammals, back from the brink? Contemporary conservation issues. In Austral Ark: State of Wildlife in Australia and New Zealand, Stow, A., Maclean, N., Holwell, G. (eds) Cambridge University Press.

11.  Lowther, A.D., Harcourt, R.G., Page, B.Goldsworthy, S.D. 2013. Steady as he goes: at-sea movement of adult male Australian sea lions in a changing marine environment. PlosOne 10.1371/journal.pone.0074348

12.  De Vos A, Christiansen F, Pattiaratchi CB, Harcourt RG. 2013. Surfacing characteristics and diving behaviour of blue whales in Sri Lankan water. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 449: 149-153.

13.  Schumann, N., Gales, N.J., Harcourt, R.G. and Arnould, J.P.Y. 2013. Impacts of climate change on Australian marine mammals. Australian Journal of Zoology

14.  Letessier, TB, Kawaguchi S, King R, Meeuwig JJ, Harcourt R, Cox MJ. 2013. A robust and economical underwater stereo video system to observe Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) Open Journal of Marine Science DOI: 10.4236/ojms.2013.33016

15.  Lowther, A.D., Harcourt, R.G., Goldsworthy, S.D. 2013. Regional variation in trophic ecology of adult female Australian sea lions inferred from stable isotopes in whiskers. Wildlife Research

16.  Huveneers, C., Stead, J., Bennet, M.B., Lee, K., Harcourt, R.G. 2013. Age and growth determination of three sympatric wobbegong sharks: how reliable is growth band periodicity in Orectolobidae?  Fisheries Research 147: 413–425

17.  Kessler, M., Harcourt, R.G. 2013. Whale watching regulation compliance trends and the implications for management off Sydney, Australia. Marine Policy 42: 14-19.

18.  Boomer JJ, Harcourt RG, Francis MP, Walker T, Braccini M, Stow AJ. 2013. Frequency of multiple paternity in gummy shark, Mustelus antarcticus and rig, Mustelus lenticulatus and the implications of mate encounter rate, post-copulatory influences and reproductive mode. Journal of Heredity doi:10.1093/jhered/est010

19.  Kessler, M., Harcourt, R., Heller, G. 2013. Swimming with whales in Tonga: sustainable use or threatening process? Marine Policy 39: 314-316.

20.  Thums, M. Whiting, S., Reisser, J., Pendoley, K., Pattiaratchi, C., Harcourt, R., McMahon, C., Meekan, M. 2012. Tracking turtle hatchlings – a pilot study using acoustic telemetry. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 440:156-163

21.  McMahon, C.R., Harcourt, R., Bateson, P., Hindell, M.A 2012. Animal welfare and conservation, the debate we must have: a response to Draper & Bekoff (2012)
Biological Conservation 158: 424

22.  Ahonen, H.A., Lowther, A.D., Goldsworthy, S.D., Harcourt, R.G., Stow, A. 2012. Characterization of 12 novel microsatellite loci and cross-amplification of four loci in the endangered Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea). Conservation Genetics Resources. DOI. 10.1007/s12686-012-9788-1

23.  Boomer JJ, Harcourt RG, Francis MP, Stow AJ. 2012. Genetic divergence, speciation and biogeography of Mustelus (sharks) in the central Indo-Pacific and Australasia, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 64:  697-703.

24.  McMahon, C.R., Harcourt, R., Bateson, P., Hindell, M.A. 2012. Animal welfare and decision making in wildlife research. Biological Conservation 153: 254-256.

25.  McMahon, C., Hindell, M.A., Harcourt, R. 2012. Publish or perish: why it’s important to publicise how, and if, research activities affect animals. Wildlife Research 39: 375-377.

26.  Lowther, A.D., Harcourt, R.G., Goldsworthy, S.D., Stow, A. 2012. Population structure of adult female Australian sea lions is driven by fine-scale foraging site fidelity. Animal Behaviour 83: 691-701.

27.  Pitcher, B., Harcourt, R., Charrier, I. 2012. Individual identity encoding and environmental constraints in vocal recognition of pups by Australian sea lion mothers. Animal Behaviour 83: 681-690.

28.  Steckenreuter, A. Möller, L, Harcourt, R. 2012. How does Australia’s largest dolphin-watching industry affect the behaviour of a small and resident population of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins? Journal of Environmental Management. 97: 14-21.

29.  Kessler, M., Harcourt, R. 2012 Management implications for the changing interactions between people and whales in Ha’apai, Tonga. Marine Policy. 36: 440-445

30.  Lowther, A. D., Hamer, D., Harcourt, R. G., Goldsworthy, S. D. 2012 Creatures of habit: temporally stable foraging behaviour of adult female Australian sea lions. Marine Ecology Progress Series 443: 249-263

31.  Gulesserian, M, Heller, G, Slip, D, Harcourt R. 2011. Modelling the behaviour state of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in response to vessel presence off Sydney, Australia. Endangered Species Research 15: 255-264

32.  Collins, K.T., McGreevy, P.D., Wheatley, K., Harcourt, R.G.  2011. The influence of behavioural context on Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) airborne mother-pup vocalisation Behavioural Processes. 87: 286–290

33.  Viddi FA, Harcourt RG, Hucke-Gaete R, Field IC 2011. Fine-scale movement patterns of the sympatric Chilean and Peale’s dolphins in the northern Patagonian fjords, Chile. Marine Ecology Progress Series 435: 245-256

34.  Field, I., Harcourt, R.G., Boehme, L., Nico de Bruyn, P.J., Charrasin, J-B., McMahon, C., Bester, M.N., Fedak, M.A., Hindell, M.A. 2011 Refining instrument attachment on phocid seals. Marine Mammal Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00519.x

35.  Steckenreuter, A., Harcourt, R., Moller, L. 2012 Are Speed Restriction Zones an effective management tool for minimising impacts of boats on dolphins in an Australian marine park? Marine Policy 36: 258-264.

36.  Charrier, I., Ahonen, H., Harcourt, R. 2011. What makes an Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) male's bark threatening? Journal of Comparative Psychology 125: 385-392

37.  Gibbs, SE, Harcourt, R., Kemper, C. 2011. Niche differentiation of bottlenose dolphin species in South Australia revealed by stable isotopes and stomach contents. Wildlife Research 38: 261-270.

38.  Bilgmann K, Möller LM, Harcourt RG, Kemper CM, Beheregaray LB 2011. The use of carcasses for the analysis of cetacean population genetic structure: A comparative study in two dolphin species. PLoS ONE 6(5): e20103. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020103

39.  Carroll E., Alexander, A., Patenaude, N, Steel, D., Harcourt R., Childerhouse, S., Smith,  S., Bannister J., Burnell S., Constantine R., Baker C.S. 2011  Population structure and individual movement of southern right whales around New Zealand and Australia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 437: 257-268

40.  Huveneers, C., Otway, N.M., Harcourt, R.G., Ellis, M. 2011. Quantification of the maternal-embryo nutritional relationship of elasmobranchs: case study of wobbegong sharks (genus Orectolobus) in eastern Australia. Journal of Fish Biology 78: 1375-1389.

41.  Pitcher, B., Ahonen, H., Charrier, I., Harcourt, R. 2011. Allosuckling behavior in the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinera): an updated understanding. Marine Mammal Science 27(4): 881-888

42.  Steckenreuter, A., Harcourt, R., Moller, L. 2011. Distance does matter: close approaches by boats impede feeding and resting behaviour of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Wildlife Research 38: 455-463

43.  Pitcher, B., Harcourt, R., Charrier, I. 2010. Rapid onset of maternal vocal recognition in a colonially breeding mammal, the Australian sea lion. PLoS One 5(8), e12195

44.  Pitcher, B., Harcourt, R., Schall, B., Charrier, I. 2011. Social olfaction in marine mammals: wild female Australian sea lions can identify their pup’s scent Biology Letters 7:60-62

45.  Kessler, M., Harcourt, R. 2010. Aligning tourist, industry and Government expectations: a case study from the swim with whales industry in Tonga. Marine Policy 34: 1350–1356.

46.  Attard, M., Pitcher, B., Ahonen, H., Charrier, I., Harcourt, R. 2010. Vocal discrimination in mate guarding male Australian sea lions: familiarity breeds contempt. Ethology 116(8):704-712

47.  Pitcher, B., Harcourt, R., Charrier, I. 2010. The memory remains: Long-term vocal recognition in Australian sea lions. Animal Cognition 13: 771-776 Featured in Science 21 May 2010

48.  Pronk, R., Wilson, D. Harcourt, R. 2010. Video playback demonstrates episodic personality in the gloomy octopus. Journal of Experimental Biology 213: 1035-1041. (IF = 3.2054) Featured in Inside JEB

49.  Harcourt, R, Turner, E, Hindell, M, Waas, J., Hall. A. 2010   Effects of capture stress on free-ranging, reproductively active male Weddell seals. Journal of Comparative Physiology A  196: 147-154

50.  Huveneers, C., Luo, K., Otway, N., Harcourt, R.  2009. Assessing the distribution and relative abundance of wobbegong sharks (Family: Orectolobidae) in New South Wales, Australia using recreational divers. Aquatic Living Resources 22 (3) 255-264

51.  Ahonen, H, Harcourt, R, Stow, A. 2009. Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA reveals isolation of imperilled grey nurse shark populations (Carcharius taurus). Molecular Ecology 18: 4409-4421

52.  Charrier, I., Pitcher, B., Harcourt R. 2009. Vocal recognition of mothers by Australian sea lion pups: individual signature and environmental constraints.  Animal Behaviour 78: 1127-1134

53.  Bilgmann, K., Moller, L.M., Harcourt, R., Gales, R., Beheregaray L. B.  2009. Reply to “Clarifying the interpretation of Hamer et al. (2008) by Bilgmann et al. (2008)” Animal Conservation 12:  289–290

54.  Pitcher BJ, Ahonen H, Harcourt RG, Charrier I. 2009. Delayed onset of vocal recognition in Australian sea lion pups (Neophoca cinerea). Naturwissenschaften. 96:901–909

55.  Bilgmann, K., Moller, L.M., Harcourt, R., Gales, R., Beheregaray L. B. 2008. Common dolphins subject to fisheries impacts in Southern Australia are genetically differentiated: implications for conservation. Animal Conservation. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2008.00213.x

56.  Gwilliam, J., Charrier, I., Harcourt, R.  2008. Vocal recognition in male Australian sea lions. Journal of Experimental Biology 211: 2288-2295

57.  Wheatley, K.E., Nichols, P.D., Hindell, M.A., Harcourt, R.G., Bradshaw, C.J.A. 2008. Differential mobilization of blubber fatty acids in lactating Weddell seals: evidence for preferential use. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 81(5):651–662.

58.  Corrigan, S., Huveneers, C., Schwartz, , T. S., Harcourt, R.G. and. Beheregaray L. B. 2008. Genetic and reproductive evidence for a cryptic species of wobbegong shark on the Australian East Coast. Journal of Fish Biology 73: 1662-1675.

59.  Moller, L.M., Harcourt, R. 2008. Shared reproductive state enhances female associations in dolphins. Research Letters in Ecology Article ID 498390, 5 pages

60.  Wheatley, K.E., Bradshaw, C.J.A., Harcourt, R.G., Hindell, M.A. 2008. Feast or famine: evidence for mixed capital-income breeding strategies in the Weddell seal. Oecologia 155: 11-20.

61.  Lemon M, Cato D, Lynch T, Harcourt R. 2008. Short-term behavioural response of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops aduncus, to recreational powerboats., Bioacoustics, 17:1-3, 171-173, DOI: 10.1080/09524622.2008.9753805

62.  Allen, S., Constantine, R., Bejder, L., Waples, K., Harcourt, R (in press) Can’t sleep, can’t eat, let’s split: short-term responses by indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins to tour boats in Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia.  Journal of Cetacean Research and Management

63.  Harcourt, R., Kingston, J.J., Waas J.R., Hindell, M.A. 2008. Foraging while breeding: alternative mating strategies by male Weddell seals? Aquatic Conservation 17: S68-S78.

64.  Gulesserian, M., Kessler, M. Harcourt, R. 2007. Are we loving our whales to death: the sustainability of a growing whale-watch industry. Proceedings of the 5th International coastal and marine tourism congress: Balancing marine tourism, development and sustainability. Eds: M. Lück, Gräupl, A., Auyong, J., Miller, M.L., Orams, M. AUT University, Auckland New Zealand. P644.

65.  Wheatley, K.E., Nichols, P., Hindell, M.A., Harcourt, R.G., Bradshaw, C.J.A 2007. Temporal variation in the vertical stratification of blubber fatty acids alters diet predictions for lactating Weddell seals Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 352: 103-113.

66.  Huveneers, C., Otway, N.M., Gibbs, S.E. and Harcourt, R.G. 2007. Quantitative diet assessment of Wobbegong Sharks (genus Orectolobus) in New South Wales, Australia. ICES Journal of Marine Science DOI 10:1093/icesjms/fsm111

67.  Huveneers, C., Walker, T., Otway, N., Harcourt, R. 2007. Reproductive synchrony of three sympatric species of wobbegong (genus Orectolobus) in New South Wales, Australia: reproductive parameter estimates necessary for population modelling.  Marine and Freshwater Research 58: 765-777

68.  Bilgmann, K., Möller, L., Harcourt, R., Gibbs, S., Beheregaray, L. 2007. Genetic differentiation in bottlenose dolphins from South Australia: a correlation with local oceanography and coastal geography? Marine Ecology Progress Series. 341:265-276.

69.  Littnan, C.L. Arnould, J.P.Y Harcourt, R G. 2007. Effect of proximity to the shelf edge on the diet of female Australian fur seals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 3338: 257-267  

70.  Allen, S., Smith, H., Waples, K., Harcourt, R. 2007. The voluntary code of conduct for dolphin watching in Port Stephens, N.S.W., Australia: Is self-regulation an effective management tool? Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 9(2): 159-166.

71.  Huveneers, C., Otway, N., Harcourt, R. 2007. Morphometric relationships and catch composition of wobbegong sharks (Chondricthyes: Orectolobus) commercially fished in New South Wales, Australia Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW 128: 243-250.

72.  Harcourt, R.G., Kingston, J.J., Cameron, M., Waas, J.R. and Hindell, M.A. 2007. Paternity analysis shows experience, not age, enhances mating success in an aquatically mating pinniped, the Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61: 643-652

73.  Huveneers, C., Harcourt, R. and Otway, N. 2006. Observations of localised movements and residence times of wobbegong sharks (Orectolobus halei) at Fish Rock, NSW, Australia. Cybium 30: 103-111

74.  Zenger KR, Stow AJ, Peddemors, V., Briscoe DA, Harcourt RG. 2006. Wide-spread utility of highly informative AFLP molecular markers across divergent shark species Journal of Heredity 97: 607 - 611 

75.  Möller, L., Beheregaray, L. Allen, S., Harcourt, R. 2006. Association patterns and kinship in female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) of southeastern Australia Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61: 109-117.

76.  Collins K.T., Terhune, J.M., Rogers, T.L., Wheatley, K.E., Harcourt, R.G. 2006. Vocal individuality of in-air Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) pup 'primary' calls Marine Mammal Science 22: 933-951.

77.  Charrier, I., Harcourt, R. 2006. Individual vocal identity in mother and pup Australian sea lions, Neophoca cinerea Journal of Mammalogy. 87: 929-938.

78.  Wheatley, K.E., Bradshaw, C.J.AS., Davis, L.S., Harcourt, R.G., Hindell, M.A. 2006. Influence of maternal mass and condition on energy transfer in Weddell seals. Journal of Animal Ecology. 75: 724-733.

79.  Stow, A., Zenger, K., Briscoe, D., Gillings, M., Peddemors, V., Otway, N. Harcourt, R. 2006. Isolation and genetic diversity of endangered grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) populations. Biology Letters. 2: 308-311.

80.  Wheatley, K.E., Bradshaw, C.J.AS., Harcourt, R.G., Davis, L.S., Hindell, M.A. 2006. Chemical immobilization of adult female Weddell seals with tiletamine and zolazepam: effects of age, condition and stage of lactation BMC Veterinary Research 2:8 doi:10.1186/1746-6148-2-8

81.  Lemon, M, Lynch, T., Cato, D. Harcourt, R. 2006. Response of travelling bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) to experimental approaches by a powerboat in Jervis Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Biological Conservation 127: 363-372.  

82.  Bradshaw, C.J.A., Hindell, M.A., Littnan, C., Harcourt, R.G. 2006. Determining Marine Movements of Australasian Pinnipeds. In: Merrick, J.R., Archer, M., Hickey, G. and Lee, M . (Eds). Evolution and Biogeography of Australasian Vertebrates. 

83.  Harcourt, R.G. 2006.Weddell Seals. In. Encyclopedia of the Antarctic. B. Riffenburgh (Ed). Routledge. Pp 1058-1060