Keep an eye on the seas this summer - "killer whales" may be making their way to New Zealand waters.
Massey University researchers have discovered a pod of rare false killer whales regularly return to Kiwi waters between December and May, accompanied by their close relatives the oceanic bottlenose dolphins.
The study, covering 17 years of observations and the first of its kind, looked at the relationship between individual mammals' movements based on the unique markings on their dorsal fins.
Massey University's Coastal-Marine Research Group masters student Jochen Zaeschmar has been studying the pseudora crassidens, also known as the false killer whale, since 2000.
False killer whales are not actually whales and belong to the dolphin family. Their name comes from similarities in skull shape to the actual killer whale. They are considered not threatened in New Zealand "Historically, most of our knowledge of false killer whales in New Zealand is from large but infrequent stranding events. Before this study, little was known about false killer whale occurrence or distribution in New Zealand waters," Mr Zaeschmar said.
A total of 61 whales have been identified so far, with about 85 per cent repeatedly resighted in coastal waters off northeast New Zealand.
All individuals identified are linked in a single social network, suggesting they all form part of the same population.
Mr Zaeschmar said more research was needed. "We're not sure how far they move and where they go to - or even if they still associate with the bottlenose dolphins during that time."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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