Thursday, May 23, 2013

Return Of Big Blue

The biggest creature on the planet seems to have taken a liking to New Zealand waters.
Scientists studying the blue whale say the massive mammal may be feeding locally, rather than just passing through while migrating to and from Antarctic summer feeding grounds.
NIWA marine biologist Leigh Torres: "In the Sthrn Hemisphere, there're only four documented foraging grounds outside Antarctic waters, so if this IS a blue whale foraging ground it's quite exciting."
Most of the whale sightings are near the oil drilling platforms off Taranaki: the whales are feeding on plankton, abundant in the area.
Sighting blue whales in the Sth Taranaki Bight is not new (although the abundance of sightings is). In 2008, it was reported that migrating blue whales had used oilfield construction materials off Taranaki for their personal preening!
But the protection afforded to blue whales in NZ waters may need to be increased. Dr Torres says the blue whale is classified as a migrant species, meaning they're not given the same level of protection as other large whales in NZ coastal waters. So more work is needed to determine the significance and scale of the Sth Taranaki Bight foraging ground.
The Bight is also our largest offshore natural gas and oil exploration area, with seven production platforms, seafloor pipelines, and plans for expansion in the near future.
Shipping and seabed mining have been shown to impact blue whales directly - altering their behaviour and degrading their habitat through acoustic disturbance and ship strikes. We need a greater understanding of how and when blue whales forage here, so possible impacts can be avoided.

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