Our tohorā/southern right whales are considered a remarkable conservation story and as their numbers increase, these whales are returning to mainland New Zealand. However, little is known about where these gentle giants go outside their subantarctic refuge and how their migration is being affected by climate change.

Scientists from the University of Auckland, in partnership with marine conservation charity Live Ocean, are asking the public to report southern right whale (and other whale) sightings to the Department of Conservation hotline  (0800 DOCHOT). Southern right whales, humpback whales, blue whales and sperm whales are the most common around mainland New Zealand in the winter months from June to October. 

Data from public sightings will help increase knowledge of whale distribution and movements around the country and bolster the satellite tracking programme, which will begin when researchers visit the Auckland Islands in August this year.  

Dr. Emma Carroll, lead researcher from the University of Auckland and Rutherford Discovery Fellow says “over the next few months southern right whales can literally be seen anywhere along Aotearoa New Zealand’s coastline. Every sighting helps us understand what areas are important to the whales and how we could protect them in the future. We need the public to tell us what they’re seeing out on the ocean.”

A recently published pilot study involving researchers from across Australia and New Zealand showed two tracked whales went to the west of New Zealand up towards Australia, rather than to the east as expected. This appears to be a startling change from the whaling era. 

Southern right whales were hunted almost to extinction in the 1800s. Whalers considered them the ‘right’ whale to hunt because they are slow moving and docile. By 1920 there were only thought to be 40 whales from the original estimated population of 30,000. 

An international hunting ban and a marine reserve in the Auckland Islands allowed the whales to recover to approximately 2,000 whales by 2009. The reserve provides a safe space for breeding and raising calves during winter, which has been vital to their recovery. Sightings from the mainland have become more common, such as Matariki, who captivated Wellington locals in 2018 with his acrobatics in the harbour.

A key part of the campaign is how to record the details including the number of whales and calves, direction they were travelling and how to take photographs or videos using identifying marks. It also aims to educate the public on how to be whale wise at sea. 

More information HERE: https://liveocean.com/project/mapping-the-southern-right-whale/

How to Be Whale Wise at Sea…

Check your distance 

• 50m away (or 200m if the whale is with a calf) 

• Keep a ‘no wake’ speed within 300m 

Check your position 

• Always come from a direction that is parallel and slightly from the rear

• Do not circle whales, or obstruct their path

• Don’t box whales in (against the shore or other boats) 

• If a whale moves towards you, slow down and stop or carefully manoeuvre out of the whale’s path

Be kind 

• Avoid loud or sudden noises 

• Never cut through a group or separate mothers from calves

• Don’t feed or swim with whales

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