Sighting of rare whale

BOTTOMS UP: A southern right whale dives off Tata Beach in Golden Bay.
SUPPLIED/Nelson Mail
BOTTOMS UP: A southern right whale dives off Tata Beach in Golden Bay.

The sighting of a rare southern right whale near Tata Beach made the long weekend even more special for a holidaying Motueka family.

Emily Robinson was out boating with her family on Sunday morning when she spotted a large southern right whale swimming 500m offshore.

The whale was estimated to be 14m long and had a 3.5m-wide tail. "It was huge."

The family contacted the Department of Conservation, which indicated it was likely to be a southern right whale.

Mrs Robinson said it was "pretty spectacular" to see such a big whale up close, and her husband John was close enough to photograph barnacles on the whale.

The whale, which was spotted in about 12m of water, caught the attention of many boaties who were out scalloping, she said.

"We watched for about quarter of an hour in a state of excitement the whole time ... It was a real buzz."

Department of Conservation ranger Clayton Ross said bad weather prevented a boat being launched to identify the whale, but DOC received a report of two whales near Tukurua later on Sunday.

Southern right whales had been spotted three times before in Golden Bay, including one sighting of a mother and a calf.

It was possible the mother and its calf had returned again, but were bigger this time, he said.

Mr Ross said the Robinsons did the right thing by contacting DOC, because photos and sightings were "absolutely crucial" in researching whales.

DOC has been trying to determine whether southern right whales seen around New Zealand are distinct from those that breed in subantarctic waters.

A 12m southern right whale mesmerised onlookers in Wellington last week, when it spent the day close to shore near Island Bay.

The Nelson Mail