Team ready to count whales

00:54, Jun 08 2011

Funding has been made available for Conservation Department researchers and former whalers to team up again this winter to count whales in Cook Strait.

Hundreds of school students will also once more join them online to study whales close up from their classrooms.

This is the eighth year of the DOC Cook Strait Whale Survey which is assessing recovery of humpback whales since commercial whaling ended in New Zealand in 1964.

The survey, based on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds, will run from this Saturday, June 11, until July 9. The four-week survey is timed for around the peak period for whales migrating north from Antarctic waters to South Pacific breeding grounds.

DOC Wellington-based marine ecologist Nadine Bott, who leads the survey, said it had been possible to continue the whale research project for another three years thanks to renewed sponsorship from OMV New Zealand Limited. Sponsorship from the company had also supported four-week surveys during the past three years.

OMV is also assisting the web-based educational programme LEARNZ to feature the Cook Strait whale research as a virtual field trip for the second year running.

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Last year's Wandering Whales field trip proved highly popular with 3892 students from 164 classes from around the country participating.

"I am extremely grateful to OMV New Zealand Limited for providing further funding for the Cook Strait humpback whale research," said Ms Bott.

"We have gained some useful knowledge to date about humpback whales but more research is needed.

"Importantly, next year we aim to extend the survey to around three months to cover the humpbacks' full northern migration in order to estimate the size of the humpback population in New Zealand waters.

"Also, the survey findings to date suggest the New Zealand population is only slowly increasing and at a much slower rate than the Australian population. We would like to try to find out why that is. The information obtained through this research is valuable in assisting efforts to protect humpback whales in the South Pacific and Southern Ocean.

"We are really pleased to have LEARNZ participating for a second year creating opportunity for school students to learn about the scientific research involved, and about whales and the marine environment and impacts on them including human activities.

"Students will get insight from former whalers about life as a whaler and take a look around the historic Perano Whaling Station on Arapawa Island which has recently been restored."

The Wandering Whales field trip will be on the website learnz.org.nz from June 22 to 24.

Former whalers have been part of the research project since it began in 2004 and seven former whalers will bring their whale-spotting skills and whale knowledge to this year's survey.

Members of the public can assist the survey by reporting sightings of whales in the Cook Strait area or travelling up the coast from Kaikoura. Sightings can be reported to the survey team on 021781610 or DOC's Picton office on 035203002.

Information is sought on the date, time and place of whale sightings, number of whales, and the direction the whale or whales were travelling.

Last year's survey counted 43 humpback whales.

Kaikoura Star