Whale survey tally record

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 16:00 10/07/2012

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Volunteer whale-spotters were left with cold bodies and sore eyes, but this year's record count of 106 humpbacks was well worth it, says a former whaler.

The tally by former whalers, Conservation Department staff and volunteer whale-spotters closed for the year on Friday, blitzing the survey's previous record of 73 humpbacks seen last year.

Spotters spent every day from dawn till dusk for four weeks sitting in a hut near Okukari Bay on Arapawa Island, in Queen Charlotte Sound, gazing through binoculars at Cook Strait, counting whales.

It was the ninth annual Cook Strait whale survey which monitors the number of humpback whales migrating north from feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to breeding areas in the South Pacific. Surveyors hoped to see increasing numbers after commercial whaling was outlawed here in 1964.

Former whaler turned whale conservationist Tom Norton said the volunteers were very happy with the result despite the physical discomfort.

"When you're sitting in an open hut on a hill all day the cold is always there but, apart from that, it was another good year up there.

"The numbers have been building since we started. I don't know if it's the new hut, better glasses and better spotters or there's just more whales."

The Conservation Department will analyse samples taken from the whales using biodarts to determine which whales reappear each year.

Organisers were prompted to extend next year's survey to cover the whale's entire three-month migratory period from June to August because only a small number of whales had been sighted in the past.

Researchers believed that by extending the survey they would get a clearer picture of the total number of whales passing through Cook Strait each year.

Former whaler Joe Heberley, who has participated in the survey since it began, said the long cold days were well worth it to collect the data.

"There was a lot of good days, we had a record of 23 in one day, and those are the ones that count.

"When we were actually whaling, we'd spot one and we were off onto the chaser boat and out to catch it but with the survey you spot one then it's straight onto the next - it's a lot more tiring, and we're getting older."

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- The Marlborough Express

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