Whale song recorder floats down to Kapiti


A $7000 de­vice that records blue whale songs has been re­trieved off Kapiti Is­land, af­ter drift­ing 185km from its Taranaki home.

A six-day re­cov­ery mis­sion was launched for the Marine Au­ton­o­mous Record­ing Unit (MARU) af­ter it be­came de­tached from the seafloor in the South Taranaki Bight.

It was fi­nally re­cov­ered by the Kapiti coast­guard near ‘‘Hole in the Rock’’, at the north end of Kapiti Is­land, last Thurs­day morn­ing.

It was tracked us­ing its in­built satel­lite trans­mit­ter, and con­di­tions even­tu­ally eased enough for the coast­guard to re­trieve it.

About the size of a beach ball and weigh­ing about 42 kilo­grams, it was one of five be­ing used in a joint project in­volv­ing the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion, the Marine Mam­mal In­sti­tute at Ore­gon State Uni­ver­sity, and the bioa­cous­tics re­search pro­gramme at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, New York.

DOC ranger Mike Ogle re­ceived a call from Cor­nell acoustic tech­ni­cian Chris Tes­saglia-Hymes to say the hy­drophone’s lo­ca­tor had ac­ti­vated, mean­ing it was on the wa­ter’s sur­face.

‘‘Given the weather, we thought ’This is go­ing to be awk­ward’ and it cer­tainly was,’’ he said.

The mis­sion was a nail-biter to the end, Ogle said. On Thurs­day morn­ing the lo­ca­tor suggested the MARU, which con­sists of a hard drive, pro­tected by a glass sphere and a plas­tic cover­ing, had smashed on rocks.

How­ever, the de­vice was lo­cated a few hun­dred me­tres off­shore. It has now been taken to DOC’s Takaka of­fice.

The de­vice changed course sev­eral times. Ini­tially it looked to be head­ing to Whanganui, but when Ogle called the coast­guard on Wed­nes­day night, it was about 10km off Otaki.

Coast­guard spokesman Rob Faulke said the job was unique.

‘‘It’s a one-off re­ally. We do odd things for peo­ple some­times, and this was an odd thing.

‘‘We’re un­likely to be called upon to do some­thing like this again.’’

The project, which be­gan al­most a year ago, is to de­ter­mine how many months of the year blue whales are res­i­dent around New Zealand. They are cur­rently clas­si­fied as mi­gra­tory by DOC.

The lost de­vice con­tained about six months of data.

The re­trieved au­dio de­vice from the South Taranaki Bight in a life ring.

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