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A southern right whale was yesterday morning seen exploring Otago Harbour, coming as far Goat Island and Quarantine Island.
Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Jim Fyfe said it was the furthest he had heard of a whale entering the harbour in the 15 years he had been in his role.
''I imagine there's a few whales passing at this time of year and a few are peeking their heads in and having a look in the harbour,'' he said.
Since July, about ''half a dozen'' sightings had been reported.
It was not uncommon for southern right whales to seek protection in the relatively sheltered waters of the harbour during winter, he said.
''They seem to be increasingly common, but ... this is as far in that I have ever heard of them coming in since I have been in Doc here.''
A Port Chalmers resident told the Otago Daily Times he first spotted the whale about 9.30am.
The whale spent the morning in the harbour, exploring the area between Goat Island and Quarantine Island, before heading back out to sea in the early afternoon.
Mr Fyfe said that in the past, southern right whales were known to come into the harbour for calving.
Whaling had decimated their numbers and given them their name.
''They are called right whales because they were the right whale to hunt,'' he said.
Their slow pace made them easy targets and the fact that they floated after being killed made it easier to tow them to shore.
''Numbers have been slowly increasing again and estimates of the population that breed in the Auckland Islands [number] a few thousand,'' he said.
''The numbers seen in the last five to 10 years have been more than fishermen have seen in the last 25.''
Bays along the southern coast of the South Island are important breeding grounds for the whales, and they are seen often from Fiordland to North Otago.