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DOC scientists and former whalers on their annual watch for whales in Cook Strait this winter will themselves come under the gaze of thousands of schoolchildren.

Date:  08 June 2010

Department of Conservation scientists and former whalers on their annual watch for whales in Cook Strait this winter will themselves come under the gaze of thousands of schoolchildren.

The Cook Strait Whale Survey will this month feature as a virtual field trip on the LEARNZ internet-based educational programme. More than 3,000 students from around the country are so far enrolled to watch the Wandering Whales virtual field trip running from 23 to 25 June on the LEARNZ website. Students will learn about humpback whales, whale conservation and New Zealand’s whaling past.

The DOC whale survey, now in its seventh year, is assessing recovery of humpback whales since commercial whaling ended in New Zealand in 1964. The survey runs for four weeks around the peak period for whales migrating north from Antarctic waters to South Pacific breeding grounds, this year taking place from Saturday 12 June until Saturday 10 July.

Seven former whalers have supported the survey since it began in 2004, proving as sharp-eyed as ever in spotting whales from a lookout point high on Arapawa Island.

DOC Wellington-based marine ecologist Nadine Bott, who leads the survey, welcomed the LEARNZ involvement in this year’s survey.

“It will be great to share with the school students how awesome the whales are and the amazing experience of seeing them. We can explain how this research contributes to the conservation of humpback whales. The former whalers on the team can pass on their extensive knowledge of whales and tell of how it was to be a whaler when whaling still took place in New Zealand.

“This year also we will be keeping a lookout for whales with satellite tags placed on them as part of the New Zealand and Australian governments’ Southern Ocean Research Partnership. This partnership is conducting non-lethal research into large whales in the Ross Sea area and adjacent Southern Ocean.

“We’re very grateful to the sponsors who help make this survey possible. OMV New Zealand Ltd’s support has enabled the survey to expand from a two-week period to four weeks over the past two years and this year, enabling more information on whales to be gathered. Transact Management Ltd provides logistical support and we use a digital SLR camera donated by Canon New Zealand.”

Last year’s survey counted 46 humpback whales and a sperm whale was also seen for the first time in the survey.

Mrs Bott said survey findings so far suggest the number of humpback whales migrating annually through Cook Strait were slowly recovering but still appear to be only a small percentage of the numbers seen in 1960, based on records from the Tory Channel whaling station.

When whales are spotted, survey team members go by boat to the whales to endeavour to get photographs and skin samples, using a biopsy dart tool, which can be used to identify individual whales. They can be checked against photographs and genetic samples obtained from whales across the South Pacific to see if any match.

Identification information gathered shows some humpback whales migrating through New Zealand waters are also seen off the east coast of Australia and in the waters around New Caledonia.

You can help:

Members of the public can support the survey by reporting sightings of whales in the Cook Strait area or travelling up the coast from Kaikoura.

Sightings can be reported to the survey team on: +64 21 781 610 or DOC’s Picton office on: +64 3 520 3002.

Information is sought on the date, time and place of whale sightings, number of whales, and the direction the whale or whales were travelling.

Additional information:

  • Whales recorded in the two-week survey periods were: in 2004, 47 humpbacks with another six large whales seen, some of which were later identified from photographs as blue whales; in 2005, 18 humpbacks; in 2006, 15 humpbacks; in 2007, 25 humpbacks and one southern right whale. In the first four-week survey in 2008, 37 humpbacks were recorded and four pygmy blue whales. Last year’s survey counted 46 humpbacks and one sperm whale.
  • The “old whalers” who have provided their whale-spotting skills to the survey are Joe Heberley, who lives on Arapawa Island, Peter, Ron and Ted Perano, Tommy and Johnny Norton, and Basil Jones.


Wandering Whales - term 2, 2010


Trish Grant
DOC Nelson/Marlborough Communications Adviser
Ph +64 3 546 3146

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