Whale researchers seek right sound

Trudi Webster.
Trudi Webster.
University of Otago PhD student Trudi Webster has received a $10,000 research grant from the Otago Museum to support research involving the haunting sounds southern right whales make under water.

The Otago Museum Trust Board recently agreed to fund her participation in a planned Otago University research trip to the Auckland Islands this winter, aboard the university's ocean-going research vessel Polaris II.

Miss Webster, who is also a project officer at the museum, is part of a team of researchers studying the ecology of the subantarctic Auckland Islands, south of New Zealand. She was ''quite excited'' about taking part in the three-week research trip in July.

She was also ''really grateful and appreciative'' for the extensive support the museum had given her.

This was the ''first long-term study'' of the ''acoustic behaviour'' of southern right whales in New Zealand waters.

Over the past three years, the Otago University team had focused its research at the Auckland Islands on native marine species such as New Zealand sea lions, southern right whales and yellow-eyed penguins, which were of ''particular interest'' because their range now extended to the Otago coastline, a report on the funding proposal said.

The team's efforts had previously generated extensive media publicity and presentations at international conferences.

Researchers planned to retrieve two autonomous acoustic recorders deployed in August last year to investigate the time of arrival and departure of the whales at the islands. Further recordings in the acoustically quiet Auckland Islands would be made for comparison work with other ''more acoustically polluted'' right whale populations, such as those off the North Atlantic coast of the United States.

Many benefits to the museum would result in exhibits, or other ''interactive production'' material could be developed for the museum, using sounds from the ocean, the report said.

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