Rare blue whales have been spotted off the coast of the North
Island by NIWA scientists.
The whales, the world's largest animal remain one of the
planet's most elusive creatures. They were intensively hunted
in the Southern Hemisphere during the whaling era,
dramatically reducing their numbers.
The creatures were spotted by scientists on a research
expedition in the South Taranaki Bight led by NIWA marine
ecologist Dr Leigh Torres.
The group is aiming to collect data to increase understanding
of the blue whale population in the region. The team has
observed nearly 50 blue whales in the past week.
"It is very exciting to see these whales and start the
process of collecting important data on this undescribed
population and poorly understood foraging habitat," Dr Torres
"In addition to finding the whales, we were able to detect
their prey visually on the surface and at-depth using
Dr Torres last year published a scientific paper that
discussed the possibility of a blue whale foraging ground in
Her research showed the presence of blue whales in the area
was greater than expected. An increase in reported sightings
was also linked to a prominent upwelling system that
generates large clouds of plankton - perfect for blue whales
to feed on.
It was previously thought the whales were only travelling
through New Zealand waters while migrating.
"Blue whales need to eat vast amounts of plankton to support
their energy demands. But there are just four confirmed blue
whale foraging grounds in the Southern Hemisphere outside of
Antarctic waters," Dr Torres said.