Date: 25 June 2009
A mother and calf duo have been spotted off the coast of Taranaki in recent days so DOC staff are hoping to hear from locals who may get the opportunity to see them as they make their way south.
Southern right whales spend a large portion of their winter breeding months (June – September) very close to the shore in sheltered waters. This is a rare opportunity for members of the public to see spectacular large whales from the coast and to help DOC with crucial research.
Since the start of our research programme four years ago, DOC has received a lot of good quality photographs from the public that have helped to identify individual whales. In the last four years around fifteen individual genetic samples have been obtained from whales around New Zealand, largely thanks to tip-offs from the public. DOC needs around 30 samples in total to ensure a secure future for these whales.
The purpose of DOC’s research is to clarify the relationship between the whales that are seen around mainland New Zealand and those that are known to be from the New Zealand subantarctic region.
Southern right whales are easy to see from the shore, measuring on average over 14 meters long, and they are the species of whale most likely to be seen close in to beaches.
DOC asks the public to report sightings of the whales to its 0800 DOCHOT line (0800 36 24 68) and, if possible, to photograph the whales. Photographs are used to identify the whales because each whale has a unique pattern of callosities (callous type growths which host a variety of marine lice, worms and barnacles) around their head. Photos that show the left side of the head and the full body length are the most valuable for identification.
“Sightings of a mother and calf off Mowhanau Beach last year enabled us to obtain biopsies for the Department of Conservation’s annual southern right whale research programme, says Jim Campbell, Biodiversity Manager. “We rely on the public to keep us informed when there are sightings and are always hopeful that we will be able to obtain the information we need”