In this file photograph, a southern right whale breaches
off Taiaroa Head, one of the popular spots to sight the
Otago is one of three ''hot spots'' for sighting southern
right whales and their visits could become more frequent during
winter, new research has shown.
In what is the first comprehensive analysis of sightings of
the rare whales around mainland New Zealand, research shows
it is increasingly becoming an important winter habitat for
them, research fellow Dr Will Rayment, of the marine mammal
research group at the University of Otago, says.
While it was hoped more and more would return to mainland New
Zealand during winter to calve, they were more at risk due to
the overlap with human occupation, he said.
''As they recover to greater numbers they'll be a regular
fixture we'll see all the time over winter months.''
Evidence in other parts of the world showed they could be at
risk of ship strike, entanglement in fishing nets and noise
Dr Will Rayment photographs southern right whales off St
Clair Beach as part of his research.
Scientists would continue to monitor their recovery
around the mainland and ''do whatever we can to promote their
recovery,'' Dr Rayment said.
''They used to be abundant; there were an estimated 30,000 in
New Zealand waters but whaling in the early 19th century
drove them to near extinction - an estimated 100 animals.''
Sightings between 1928 and 1963 were few and it seemed they
were gone until a remnant population was discovered in the
subantarctic islands, he said.
''As the population increases, it seems like they are now
recolonising mainland New Zealand.''
Scientists from Otago, Auckland University and the Department
of Conservation had analysised data from sightings, including
those made by the public, and the research had been published
in the latest issue of Marine Mammal Science.
From 2003 to 2010 there were 125 confirmed sightings of the
whales with up to 22 seen per year. Two had returned to have
their calves for a second time.
''That's much higher [than before], good evidence they are
Three ''hot spots'' for sightings were identified - Otago
Peninsula and Otago coast, Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island,
and the Northland coast.
As Otago used to be the centre for the whaling industry, due
to the number of whales, it was not surprising it was still
popular with whales today, he said.
''Those conditions they liked back then when they were
abundant are still the same as conditions now.''
The whales sought out calm waters to calve and then spent
three to four months around New Zealand with their calves.
Southern right whales
• Typically black in colour but can have irregular white
• Slow swimmers but very acrobatic and inquisitive.
• Adults grow 11m to 18m long.
• Only large baleen whales to be seen from the beach.
• They come close to shore to feed or breed.
• Feed on planktonic crustaceans.
• Mostly found in waters in subantarctic.
• Seen in waters around New Zealand in winter when calving.