© UnknownHumpback whales tagged off Australia's east coast also spend time feeding in Bass Strait and off NZ.
Australian scientists have found humpback whales tagged off the east coast travel more widely than previously thought.

The discovery is also at odds with the traditional understanding of the humpback whale's travel routes identified by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The federal government hopes the research will help protect Southern Ocean whales.

Last October, scientists tagged 16 whales near Eden in NSW.

Their movements were tracked for six months over an area covering about 4,000 kilometres.

The study's findings suggest the whales spend more time feeding in temperate waters than scientists thought, in areas east of Flinders Island off northeast Tasmania, and west of Fiordland, New Zealand.

"The activity of humpback whales within Bass Strait is much greater than thought previously and this is the first study to show migration through Bass Strait and also down Tasmania's west coast," Australian Marine Mammal Centre director Nick Gales said.

The study provided information on their feeding patterns in Antarctica and the relationship between their food source, krill, and retreating sea ice during the summer melt, he said.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett, at the Australian Marine Mammal Centre in Hobart, said the research program strengthened Australia's conservation argument.

"It means that we are better possessed of good quality science to continue our very, very strong position and argument about reforming the IWC so that it is a conservation-focussed organisation," Mr Garrett told reporters on Thursday.

Japan wasn't yet a part of the program "but their invitation remains open", he said.

Mr Garrett described it as part of the "most comprehensive effort ever to address what is a dysfunctional situation" where the IWC permits countries to take whales in the name of science.

But he wouldn't say whether the government would use the scientific research to get the Japanese to stop whaling altogether.

Over the last six months, the federal government has ramped up its commitment to what it calls non-lethal whale research, with $32 million invested in whale conservation initiatives, including a $14 million Southern Ocean research partnership program.

Almost all nations with an interest in whale conservation, including Latin American countries, the US, New Zealand, South Africa and the EU, are participants.

Planning is underway for ship and aerial-based whale research later this year.