Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thar She Blows

The 11th annual Cook Strait Whale Survey begins this Saturday (14 June), aiming to determine how humpback whales are recovering since commercial whaling ended in 1964.
Former whalers will again be part of the Department of Conservation (DoC) research team, spotting humpbacks migrating through the strait on their annual journey from Antarctic waters to South Pacific breeding grounds.
The Cook Strait Whale Survey has run each winter since 2004. Last year's bad weather made it difficult to see whales out at sea, but nonetheless 59 humpbacks were counted. Researchers are hoping for better weather in this year's 4wk.survey (ending 12 July).
Wellington marine ecologist Nadine Bott says whale recovery is assessed by comparing survey numbers to whalers' records of humpbacks in Cook Strait from the 1950s/early 1960s: "The findings indicate the NZ humpback population is increasing but only slowly."
While some of the team spot for whales on land, others approach the whales by boat to gather information for identifying individual whales. Photos and skin samples (using a biopsy dart tool) are taken. These are checked against photographs and genetic samples from whales across the South Pacific to see if any match. The information to date shows some humpback whales migrating through NZ waters are also seen off the east coast of Australia and around New Caledonia.
Researchers also gather data and identification information on other whale species seen, which in the past has included blue, southern right, minke and sperm whales.
The public can help, by reporting sightings of whales in the Cook Strait area or along the northern Kaikoura coast, to DOC on 03/520-3002. Information is sought on the date, time and place of whale sightings, number of whales, and the direction the whale or whales were travelling.

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