Tourists asked to help count whales in Kaikōura

A humpback whale tail, coated with barnacles, spotted during a past Great Kaikoura Whale Count....
A humpback whale tail, coated with barnacles, spotted during a past Great Kaikoura Whale Count. PHOTO: SUPPLIED BY AL HALL, DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION
Have you ever thought of counting whales as part of your winter holiday getaway?

Volunteers are needed for the Great Kaikōura Whale Count from 27 June to 10 July.

Kaikōura Ocean Research Institute Inc (KORI) began the initiative in 2020, when tourism companies were not operating due to Covid-19 restrictions.

With whale watching trips on hold at the time, stranded tourists and locals helped with the first count.

The project aims to get an idea of the number of whales migrating between feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica and breeding grounds in a more tropical climate.

The whale count was held for three years before taking a year off due to a lack of funds, but KORI director Dr Jody Weir said funding had been secured from Kaikōura District Council.

KORI has close to 200 volunteers from across the country help with the annual count.

Over the three years it was run, KORI noticed an increase in the number of whales, including humpbacks, and there was a large number of calves.

''On the best day in 2022, we counted 40 humpbacks and there were orca, sperm whales and blue whales,'' Dr Weir said.

''This is consistent with international markers which show humpbacks are coming back.

''Kaikōura was once based on whaling and this northern bay used to be full of southern right whales, but now we celebrate if they come through.

''We are hoping it will become a more welcoming place for whales.''

In May 2020, local tourism operators WhaleWatch and Dolphin Encounter were out of action due to Covid, but the whales were still migrating, Dr Weir said.

"There were people not working, receiving government subsidies, so employers were sending people out to help and there were tourists stuck here.''

In the first season, there was funding from Kaikōura District Council and KORI was able to combine it with research it was doing for the Department of Conservation.

KORI has received a grant from the council to help pay for some internships, so it can bring in students to help run initiatives, including the whale count.

Each day, between 27 June to 10 July, there will be spotters looking for whales at the monitoring station on the Kaikōura Peninsula between 10am and 4pm (weather permitting).

A training session will be held at the Kaikoura Museum on 27 June, and there will be free festivities to celebrate the whales on Saturday, 29 June, and Sunday, 7 July.

Contact for more information.

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.