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Air Force sights new dolphin species for NZ

17 November, 2004

Air Force sights new dolphin species for NZ

A species of dolphin never before recorded in New Zealand waters was identified today from Royal New Zealand Air Force photographs as Fraser’s dolphin.

On 9 November an Air Force Orion was on a regular patrol of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone when the crew spotted signals of dolphins on the aircraft radar, 240km north-northeast of Cape Reinga. On further investigation, the crew sighted four pods of dolphins and digital photos were taken.

New Zealand marine mammal expert Alan Baker said today he suspected that the dolphins were Fraser’s dolphins when shown the photos this week, and sought independent advice from a dolphin scientist in Japan.

“I have confirmation from Grant Abel at Shimonoseki Aquarium. He figured, like me, that their location, shape of head, colour pattern, and the size of the pod would suggest either dusky or Fraser’s dolphin at first look, but it’s too far north for duskies, and the dorsal fin is too low and sub sub-triangular, and there is no white on the upper flanks behind the fin.”

Rob Suisted, DOC national marine mammal co-ordinator, said that the sighting brought the number of marine mammal species found in New Zealand waters to 51.

“That’s more than any other country and shows why some people regard New Zealand as the marine mammal capital of the world.”

“Two years ago we only had 48 species recorded in our waters. Since then we’ve had a Ross seal at Waikanae, normally only seen in remote parts of Antarctica, and two ginkgo-toothed whales, a 6-metre beaked whale first described in the 1950s and one of the least-known animals on the planet.”

“It’s a good spin off from the Air Force’s routine patrolling when they can deploy their surveillance equipment like this. I’m pleased they contacted us, and look forward to more sightings in the future.”

While much is known about marine mammals around New Zealand’s coasts, little is known of whales and dolphins throughout the EEZ, Mr Suisted said.

Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei) was first described in 1970. Dr Baker, in his 1983 book “Whales And Dolphins of New Zealand and Australia” predicted that Fraser’s dolphins “may be expected in the far north of New Zealand”. They are known to herd in numbers of up to 500, grow up to 2.4m. The species was given its Latin name by the late Dr Francis Fraser, Curator of Marine Mammals, British Museum of Natural History.


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