Ocean focus

Kaikoura, New Zealand's top spot for whale-watching, is to host Whalefest this month.

Running from March 13 to 18, it has been organised by Kaikoura-based researcher, educator and author Barbara Todd and celebrates New Zealand's whale and dolphin population.

It will also help promote the launch of her latest book,Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand, published by Te Papa Press.

Barbara is a marine researcher and educator who has studied whales for more than 20 years.

She has worked with orca in the Pacific Northwest, humpbacks in the Caribbean and Tonga, sperm whales in New Zealand and southern right whales in the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell islands.

She has written several earlier books about whales and in 1988 she set up the first eco-tourism and whale-watching venture in New Zealand, Nature Watch Charters.

Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand was written as a companion piece to the successful Te Papa exhibition, Whales Tohora, now touring the United States.

New Zealand has more than half the world's known whale species in its waters, whether they be resident, migratory or vagrant. Thirteen species are among the world's 21 known beaked whales, the least understood of all cetaceans.

Barbara's book offers a catalogue of whales and dolphins and recounts humans' interactions with them.

"The whale has been revered, idolised, feared - there is a whole spectrum of interactions with humans," Barbara explains. "They have been interwoven with human history since the beginning of time."

There are references to whales in the Bible, they have been hunted for their meat and oil, and are today are the focus of tourism activities which focus on their preservation.

That and educating people is a major part of Barbara's work.

Whalefest starts with the launch of her book at 7pm on Thursday, March 13, in the Mayfair Theatre, Kaikoura.

The launch will be attended by 12-year-old Isaac Scott, a young New Zealander who has collected 5000 signatures for a petition against Japanese whaling ships killing the mammals in the name of research. In recognition of his work, Isaac is the first youth patron member of the National Whale Centre in Picton.

Another major player in the world of whales at the launch will be Dr Bernd Wursig who has published many studies of whale and dolphin behaviour and their ecology.

■ Other Whalefest events are:

Humans and Whales Interactions will be presented by Whale Watch Kaikoura skipper Metua Manuu Tangiiatau and Isaac Scott at 7pm, March 15, in the Kaikoura Drama Club.

The conservation of whales and dolphins, the dangers they face and what can be done to protect them will discussed at 7pm on March 18 in the Kaikoura Drama Club.

A documentary film about the consequences of keeping an orca in captivity opens at 4pm today at the Mayfair Theatre, Kaikoura. Blackfish follows the life of Tilikum, an orca kept at SeaWorld and responsible for three people's deaths.

The Marlborough Express