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Positive news in latest whale numbers

Positive news in latest whale numbers

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith welcomed the results from the latest Cook Strait Whale Project survey which concluded today and showed the second highest number of humpback whale sightings on record.

“Ninety-two whale sightings this year is good news. It is the second highest to the 106 sighted in 2012 and compares to an average of 66 over the past six years where we have carried out a four-week survey. These findings will be useful in informing and determining the conservation status of the humpback whale species,” Dr Smith says.

The Cook Strait Whale Project is carried out by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to assess the recovery of the humpback whale species since the end of commercial whaling in New Zealand in 1964. The four-week survey is timed for the whales’ annual migration from Antarctic waters to their breeding grounds in the South Pacific. This year’s survey is the 11th in the ongoing series. The species’ recovery will be assessed by comparing the numbers seen in the survey with whaling station humpback records from the 1950s and early 1960s.

“The findings to date indicate the New Zealand humpback population is increasing but slowly. The research project is still gathering data and further analysis is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn. A data series over a long period is needed to draw firm conclusions,” Dr Smith says.

“The research team noted some unusual behaviour amongst humpbacks this year including more sea surface activity and more milling around. It is thought this might be due to the warmer than normal sea temperatures that have been reported this winter.

“The team also collected 41 skin samples using a biopsy dart tool and took 38 photos of individual whales. The skin samples will assist in assessing the humpback population size and links with humpbacks seen elsewhere in the South Pacific as well as providing genetic information.

“The survey also collects information on other whale species seen which this year included a blue whale and a pod of orca and also several sperm whale sightings. Sightings of blue whales have become more commonplace which is an encouraging indication their population is also increasing.

“Commercial and community partnerships play a key part in the Cook Strait Whale Project. It would not be possible without OMV New Zealand Limited’s partnership with DOC. The project also has strong support from the Marlborough community, Transact Management Ltd, the Bell Tea & Coffee Company, Canon New Zealand Ltd and the University of Auckland.

“A feature of this annual survey is the lead role of six former whalers in the spotting work. Their transformation from whale cullers to whale conservationists is illustrative of the change in community values towards these iconic marine animals.

“Whales were slaughtered in appalling numbers in New Zealand waters throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It is great news to see our conservation effort are paying off with these improved sightings but with a slow breeding cycle we would expect it to take many decades for their populations to fully recover,” Dr Smith concluded.


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