Whales closer to shore

Quakes may be the cause

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 11:48 11/01/2012

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Kaikoura

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Reports of whales coming unusually close to the coast have been piling up since large aftershocks hit Christchurch on Christmas Eve.

Whale Watch and Air Kaikoura have been regularly spotting a variety of beak, humpback and sperm whales four nautical miles, about seven kilometres, offshore over the last two weeks.

Air Kaikoura flight instructor Chris Guy said the whales were normally seen about 13 nautical miles, about 23km, off the coast but they had been coming closer since the 6.0 aftershock on Christmas Eve.

"We don't know if it was the earthquake or what. There's all sorts of theories about how the shakes might affect the whales or their environment but we can't prove any of them. They tend to just go where there's food."

The planes spotted 13 to 17 beak, humpback and sperm whales in one half-an-hour flight at the end of December. A pod of seven beak whales were leaping about 25 feet (7.5 metres) at a time across the ocean.

"I don't know if anything was chasing them or if they were just having a ball. I've never seen anything like it in my life, it just blew me away."

A pod of pilot whales came less than four kilometres offshore at the end of last week but, as only three vessels were allowed near a whale at a time, Air Kaikoura and Whale Watch were forced to take turns viewing the spectacle.

"The chopper pilot called me over to them but when I told him how many there were he had to come back to see them and they were gone."

Whale Watch staff and customers were given a particularly special treat when about six orca whales came within a few metres off the shore of the South Bay marina, on the southern side of the Kaikoura peninsula, last Monday morning.

Kaikoura Whale Watch spokeswoman Lisa Bond said it was very rare for the whales to venture so far into the marina and tourists had flocked to the coastline as word of their arrival spread.

"It's not every day you get to see killer whales so close to the shoreline, it's quite remarkable.

"It was just a normal day for Whale Watch, but every now and then we are caught off guard."

The orcas travelled around the peninsula, came about 75m offshore of the town and were easily viewable from the Whale Watch booking office on Whaleway Station Road.

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- Kaikoura Star

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