Could the feeding ground off Taranaki become a whale-watching enterprise for our region?
A blue whale feeding ground off Cape Egmont has caught marine scientists by surprise.
Conservation Department ranger Callum Lilley yesterday confirmed the feeding ground lies less than 20 kilometres off Cape Egmont.
The initial sighting came on October 29, 2007, when the skipper of the tug boat Rupe reported seeing about 20 giant marine mammals 20km off Cape Egmont in 100 metres of water.
Mr Lilley and fellow DOC ranger Bryan Williams followed up the sighting and observed blue whales feeding 18.5km off Cape Egmont.
Six were clearly identified "but there may have been many more", Mr Lilley said.
Frequent sightings since then led DOC to conclude that Taranaki waters between Puniho and Cape Egmont were a hot spot for blue whales.
"For us it came as a great surprise," Mr Lilley said.
"Locally it was something we didn't expect and were really excited about."
Niwa spatial marine ecologist Dr Leigh Torres said research on the Taranaki feeding ground had been submitted for publication in a scientific journal.
Niwa hoped to release a media statement about the discovery soon, she said.
"I am unable to comment on this now because it is considered sensitive information at the present," Ms Torres said.
Until recently blue whale sightings in Taranaki waters were uncommon, Mr Lilley said.
Sightings may be on the rise because of increased human activity off the coast particularly in the oil and gas industry, he said.
"They've been our eyes on the water and they've fed a lot of information to us," Mr Lilley said.
"It just goes to show in remote areas, where there's few people to see them, there may be things going on that we're not really aware of."
Mr Lilley believed the feeding grounds were rich in krill, making the area an appealing pit stop for blue whales on their migration route.
Tawhiti Museum creator Nigel Ogle, who has extensive knowledge of Taranaki's whaling history, said he was astounded to hear of the blue whale feeding ground.
"For me it's a total surprise to hear that there are blue whale in significant concentrations out there," Mr Ogle said.
Historically humpback and right whales were target species but not blue whales, he said.
"Blue whale is not mentioned in those catches."
This was probably because they were not found in high numbers, he said.
Puke Ariki records show there have been about 12 blue whale strandings recorded in Taranaki since colonial times.
The most recent was a dead 22.3 metre-long pygmy blue whale washed up on Waiinu Beach in South Taranaki in May last year.
A blue whale flipper found at Awakino in 1975 hangs on the wall at Puke Ariki museum.
Soon to join it will be the jaw bones of a young female sperm whale, washed up at the end of Turangi Rd north of Waitara in 2009.
The two gigantic jawbones and 43 teeth were given to Puke Ariki for safekeeping from Ngati Rahiri.
The bones were given the name Turangi Kitai by Ngati Rahiri kaumatua Mahou Waru because of the location the whale was found.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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