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Whale of a time with stomach contents

13 March 2006

Whale of a time with stomach contents

BAYERBoost scholarship winner studies diet of 25 pygmy sperm whales

Being up to your elbows in the smelly, putrid contents of a whale’s stomach is not a pleasant way to spend the summer, but it couldn’t have been better for BAYERBoost scholarship winner Emma Beatson (21).

Funding from the scholarship allowed the Auckland University of Technology honours student to conduct research into the diet of 25 pygmy sperm whales stranded on New Zealand beaches between 1991 and 2003.

By studying the contents of the whales’ stomachs, she hoped to gain a better understanding of the diet and potential human threats to these poorly known marine mammals. This is the first research of its kind to be undertaken in New Zealand.

“It’s a very messy business – basically you’re sifting through a mass of extremely putrid smelling slush,” says Emma.

“However, it was definitely worth it in the end. The pygmy sperm whale is the most frequently stranded whale species in New Zealand, and locally nothing was known of its biology, diet or behaviour, so any insight into the animal is a bonus.”

Emma says the most significant finding is that the whales feed predominantly on squid. An unusual find amongst the stomach contents was a rare kind of octopus (Octopus kaharoa), a species recognised by the Department of Conservation as endangered.

Emma has presented her findings at an international conference in Hobart, Australia, and hopes to have her research published soon.

In the meantime, she is lining up her next grizzly project – studying the stomach contents of pilot whales stranded near Nelson last December. From here she hopes to secure funding to start a PhD study looking into diet, conservation and rehabilitation of the smaller toothed whales of New Zealand.

The BAYERBoost Environmental Scholarship Scheme was established in 2005. It allows senior secondary school and university students to gain experience working in environmental research or restoration. The scheme is funded by Bayer New Zealand Ltd and administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.


About Emma Beatson

Emma graduated from Papatoetoe High School at the top of her year and received a full fee scholarship to undertake a Bachelor of Applied Science degree at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Whilst studying towards her bachelors degree she was fortunate to work part-time for Auckland’s Dolphin and Whale Safari, onboard marine mammal tourism and research vessel DOLPHIN EXPLORER – an experience that sparked her passion for marine mammal conservation.

In her third year of BAppSc studies she was invited to do an honours degree. Emma accepted this offer, although first took a six month break to complete a diploma in marine studies at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic where she gained valuable practical experience, as well as commercial qualifications, such as her inshore Launchmasters and PADI open water instructor certification. She then returned to AUT to continue studying towards her honours degree, which she will complete in June of this year, whilst working for the university as a part-time marine field technician.

About Bayer

Bayer is an international, research-based group with major businesses in health care, crop science and high-tech materials. Employing some 93,000 people worldwide, and almost 900 in Australia/New Zealand, the Bayer Group has a portfolio of over 10,000 products and operations in nearly all countries of the globe. Worldwide operations are managed from Group headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany.

In New Zealand, Bayer aims to make a positive contribution to the community, not only by providing innovative solutions, but also through our educational partnerships. For example, Bayer supports ongoing clinical research and educational initiatives in the treatment of haemophilia. On a broader scale, we believe social commitment also extends to the environment. We support initiatives to preserve and protect New Zealand’s native flora and fauna, such as the Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre, and the BAYERBoost Environmental Scholarship Scheme.

Bayer has had a presence in Australia and New Zealand for more than 75 years. For more information on Bayer visit or contact:

About the Royal Society of New Zealand

The Royal Society of New Zealand is an independent, non-government organisation instituted under an Act of Parliament with the objective of advancing and promoting science and technology. We have a membership of over 1500 individual scientists and technologists as well as about 50 constituent organisations, are the Academy of Sciences for New Zealand, and promote science and technology through:

- communication of scientific and technological issues to the public;
- celebration of science and technology;
- education programmes for primary and secondary school students and teachers;
- provision of advice to government to promote evidence-based policy; and
- administration of government research funds (for research of excellence in

New Zealand as well as international collaborations).
We manage the National Waterways Project which supports teachers in involving their students in monitoring the quality of their local waterway and taking action to restore it. Many of our NZ Science, Mathematics and Technology Teacher Fellows are engaged in environmental work during the term of their Fellowship, and we encourage students to use their environment as the context for their work for CREST Awards or science and technology fairs.


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