Warmer seas cre­ate a whale of time in New Zealand

Hawke's Bay Today - - NATION -

land,” she says.

She was able to con­firm the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion thanks to re­cent sci­en­tific en­deav­ours to tag the mam­mals to track their move­ments.

“As they re­cover in num­bers we are see­ing more hump­backs pass­ing New Zealand. They go past our east and west coast.”

“I would like to go back and de­ploy some more satel­lite tags; per­haps the Oceanic whales are re­cov­er­ing slower be­cause they mi­grate on a longer jour­ney to their Aus­tralian cousins.”

Mean­while, a south­ern right whale made Welling­ton Har­bour its home, in the process caus­ing the Matariki fire­works dis­play planned for last week­end to be de­layed.

On Satur­day, a 17m sperm whale, weigh­ing more than 30 tonnes, washed up on Mar­fells Beach, near Sed­don.

On Mon­day, two “su­per-rare“pygmy right whales were found dead on Taupo¯ Bay in the Far North.

De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion marine ranger Cat Peters said the rare marine an­i­mals had only been sighted at sea 30 times.

Also on Mon­day, a pygmy sperm whale and its male calf stranded at Mahia beach. They both died.

Peters, of Rus­sell, said an un­usu­ally high num­ber of whale sight­ings this year is due to warmer sea tem­per­a­tures and

east­erly winds bring­ing the whale’s food closer to shore.

The sea tem­per­a­tures also trig­gered a die-off of pen­guins this year.

In March, Sir Peter Blake Trust en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­gramme mana- ger Bahkti Pa­tel was in­volved in a project at the Ker­madec Is­lands, one of the most densely pop­u­lated meet­ing grounds for hump­backs in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. At the is­lands they were able to col­lect skin sam­ples and carry out test­ing to de­ter­mine the whales’ gen­der, health and re­la­tions to other whales. Oceanic hump­back pop­u­la­tions are re­cov­er­ing, slowly but surely, she says. “Cer­tainly we can be con­fi­dent num­bers are re­cov­er­ing — there are two pop­u­la­tion of hump­backs in this area. “The Ocea­nia whales are re­cov­er­ing slower. Rochelle is look­ing if there a link to the longer mi­gra­tion of Ocea­nia whales with the re­cov­ery rates we see.” It wasn’t un­til 2015 the whales were tagged and they were able to trace their move­ments.

Orca Trust founder and marine bi­ol­o­gist In­grid Visser says she has had sev­eral re­ports of a white hump­back whale trav­el­ling north on the east coast.

A white hump­back has been recorded in the At­lantic Ocean but Visser is 99 per cent sure the sight­ings would not be of that whale.

It is pos­si­ble the new whale could be the off­spring of Mi­ga­loo.

Visser says the new whale is ei­ther al­bino or leucis­tic, mean­ing it has white pig­men­ta­tion.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is that al­bino an­i­mals have pink eyes while leucis­tic an­i­mals have black eyes, Visser says.

It is not yet known whether Mi­ga­loo is al­bino or leucis­tic.

Con­stan­tine will head to Antarc­tica in Fe­bru­ary with the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Water and At­mo­spheric Re­search to find feed­ing hump­backs as well and tag them to track their mi­gra­tion pat­terns.

“In the next 20 years, hump­backs will be a sight that is not re­marked on. It’s ev­ery­one’s goal. When we stopped whaling we were at the fore­front,” she says.

Any­one sight­ing the white whale has been asked to report it to the Orca Re­search Trust on 0800 733 6722.

A rare white hump­back whale Mi­ga­loo, top right, a south­ern right whale in Welling­ton Har­bour this week and right as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Rochelle Con­stan­tine.

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