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Southern right whale sighting in Milford Sound

Media release – for immediate use
1 November 2007

Unusual Southern right whale sighting in Milford Sound

Visitors in Milford Sound had an extraordinary treat this week when a rare Southern right whale surfaced unexpectedly near their vessel.

Real Journeys nature guide Richard Heyward said the whale was first sighted during a morning Nature Cruise on Monday. “We saw it doing headstands just outside the entrance to Milford Sound. I’m not sure what it was doing, maybe scraping its callosities – the barnacles they have on their heads.”

Mr Heyward said the whale was about 100 metres from the shore. “There was lots of tail action above the surface and we watched it flapping its tail around for about 10 minutes.”

During the afternoon cruise, the whale reappeared alongside the Real Journeys vessel near Copper Point. “It surfaced between us and the rock wall quite unexpectedly and we had it alongside for about five minutes. The water is brilliantly clear, so the passengers had a really good look.”

Another Southern right whale was sighted in Milford Sound in late August, Mr Heyward said. “Maybe it will become more commonplace as numbers increase?”

Southern right whales (tohora) are one of the world’s rarest mammals. The Department of Conservation considers Southland to be a “hot spot” for Southern right whales and they are usually spotted between June and October. Most whales pass through Foveaux Strait on their migration north to the east coast, but a few head up the West Coast.

Southern right whales are a native migrant to New Zealand, but DOC believes it is possible that the whales seen around New Zealand come from a separate population from those found in sub-antarctic waters, making them extremely rare.

Why are they known as Southern right whales?
This species swims slowly, so whales could easily catch them in their row boats. They also floated when killed and produced plenty of oil.

Note: Real Journeys won two awards at the recent New Zealand Tourism Awards - the Department of Conservation’s Conservation in Action Award and the Qualmark Mark of Quality Award. The company adheres strictly to their Marine Mammal Watching Permits and the voluntary Milford Sound Marine Mammal Viewing Code of Conduct.


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