Taking whales strait to kids

22:46, Jun 28 2010
Whale tail
What a sight: This photo of a whale's tail was taken in the Cook Strait during the annual whale survey near the Tory Channel.

When whales breach, it's like a huge truck bursting out of the water.

Well that's what Barrie Matthews thinks. The Christchurch-based Learnz project manager made the analogy after spotting a whale in Tory Channel during the annual humpback whale survey in Cook Strait.

Mr Matthews and fellow Learnz field teacher Andrew Penny took part in the survey to record a video for the Learnz virtual field trip program.

The survey, which started on June 12, runs for four weeks around the peak period for whales migrating north from Antarctic waters to South Pacific breeding grounds.

Enlisting the help of former Marlborough whalers to help spot the massive mammals, the survey is now into its seventh year.

Mr Matthews said his whale sighting was "quite magical".


"It really brings it home, protecting the whales – it's way bigger than New Zealand. It's a global issue, what is happening in international waters cannot be dealt with in isolation."

Mr Penny said spending time with the old whalers was like stepping back in time: "The whales were great but what got me fired up was putting myself in the same place as those former whalers at the watch-hut and then going out on the chase boat."

Mr Penny kept a diary, took photographs and captured what he could of the whale survey on video for thousands of students to watch online.

He held two live audio conferences from the whale lookout, during which time students could ask the former whalers and the survey leader, Conservation Department (DOC) marine ecologist Nadine Bott, questions.

"These field trips put children in touch with reality," Mr Penny said.

Learnz is free for all New Zealand teachers, and is funded by the Education Ministry and DOC.

It started in 1995 and has 3000 registered teachers from 1500 schools nationwide.

"It excites children, they learn without thinking about it. They are in charge of their own learning. It brings children to places they just could not normally go and gives them experiences they can relate to," Mr Penny said.

The Marlborough Express