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Citizen Science Cetacean Census, Success

Around the country this weekend, for the first time ever, volunteers have taken to coastal headlands in a collective cetacean census.

Former whaling stations such as Kaikoura and Moeraki celebrated the return of Humpback whales when they were spotted by community counters on Saturday. Humpbacks were also seen from Whangarei Heads and the Makara coast.

Cetacean spotters faced the gamut of New Zealand’s weather conditions, from complete mist in Bluff and on the Wellington coast to short-wearing warmth for Auckland teams. Spotters included family and school groups, marine scientists, stranded tourists and local residents, teams and individuals.

But the best video footage of the day submitted to the census so far was taken by a spearfisher, of the Humpback whale off the Makara coast. In the video, the diver, David Saxon, is approached and passed by the whale in murky water as he swam at about 8.30am. Meanwhile, the fisherman’s mum searched for whales from shore as part of the land-based census effort.

The event hopes to take a snapshot of cetacean presence and to establish a baseline for similar surveys in future years. It is continuing to run throughout the weekend as weather conditions allow.

There’s island spotting from the Hauraki Gulf, and teams are expected to venture out from boats in the Bay of Islands and beyond, as well as to resume spotting from landward locations.

Up to 100 people in around 40 locations are expected to take part in this weekend’s spotting activities overall. Organiser Christine Rose says, “Even where groups haven’t seen whales or dolphins, they have been enthusiastic in the effort.” “The spotting teams are overwhelmingly keen to take part again next year.” “In fact, some people want to do it 365 days of the year”.

Mrs Rose says the census has been important in raising awareness of the marine environment and New Zealand’s distinctive dolphins and whales. While counting cetaceans, the census also builds a community in celebration of ocean taonga. “Next year we hope to have even more people involved, and to see more whales and dolphins”. “That will build on this year’s success”.

People can download guidelines and survey forms from the Cetacean Spotting Facebook page, to take part on Sunday, nominating their own spotting sites on the day. “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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