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New Zealand’s First Nationwide Citizen Science Whale And Dolphin Census, This Weekend

This weekend, for the first time ever, a nationwide team of citizen scientists will stand on headlands hoping to count dolphins and whales.

On Saturday 20 June, from 9.30-3.30, from the Bay of Islands to Bluff, keen whale watchers will take positions staring out to sea. The event hopes to take a snapshot of cetacean presence and to establish a baseline for similar surveys in future years.

The Cetacean Census is being organised through the Cetacean Spotting NZ Facebook page, timed to coincide with the historical peak northward Humpback whale migration.

Organiser Christine Rose says New Zealand’s extensive coast, and whale and dolphin diversity mean whales and dolphins may easily be seen from shore. “But whales were decimated by commercial whaling until just a few decades ago. Our survey aims to create a long-term study repeated year on year, to see if a hoped-for recovery can be seen”. “The public love to see whales and dolphins, and this way, they can contribute to science while they look for them”.

Passing through New Zealand waters on their northward migration at the moment are Humpback and Southern Right Whales, but orca and other dolphins can also often be seen from shore. Even rare whales and dolphins can also sometimes be seen from coastal locations.

Up to 100 people in around 40 locations are expected to take part in this weekend’s spotting activities. Mrs Rose says “Whale and dolphin spotting can be a family affair, and is very rewarding when a whale or dolphin is seen”. “But even if some of our groups don’t see whales, that’s important information too”.

People can download guidelines and survey forms from the Cetacean Spotting Facebook page, to take part, nominating their own spotting sites, or can email cetaceanspottingnz@gmail.com to find a team to join on the day.

Teams have been organised for many of the key whale watching spots on both the East, West and South coasts, and more volunteers and teams are welcome to take part. “We welcome public involvement, in adding to the eyes on the sea. Anyone with a keen eye can be a whale watching citizen science, but binoculars will also help”.

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