Nav: Home

Researchers reveal first sightings of rare whales off New Zealand coast

July 07, 2016

For the first time in New Zealand waters an extremely rare grouping of Shepherd's Beaked Whales has been spotted from a University of Otago research vessel off the coast of the city of Dunedin in the South Island.

Dr Will Rayment, from Otago's Department of Marine Science, last week led a survey expedition of the submarine canyons off the Otago coast aboard the vessel Polaris II, and revealed the two separate sightings of the whale today. The survey team comprised researchers from Otago University, Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, Otago Museum, Parker Conservation and the Ornithological Society of NZ.

The Shepherd's Beaked Whale, Tasmacetus shepherdii, is one of the least known cetaceans in the world, and was previously known from only nine confirmed sightings in the world of live members of the species, and 55 strandings of dead whales.

"There have previously been no confirmed sightings in New Zealand waters, although New Zealand is the world's stranding hotspot for the species," he says.

"On Tuesday (28 June) the team saw a group of five beaked whales in the Taiaroa Canyon, about 30 km east of Taiaroa Head. They were confident they had just sighted the unusual Shepherd's beaked whale, mostly because one of the team, Dr Trudi Webster, had recently attended a stranding on the Chatham Islands.

"Amazingly, the very next day, the team made another sighting of the rare species, this time a group of three in the Saunders Canyon, also off the coast of Dunedin. Both sightings were later confirmed as Shepherd's Beaked Whales by Anton van Helden, NZ's beaked whale expert."

"The team saw a range of seabird and marine mammal species, but the highlight was undoubtedly the two sightings of this rare and elusive whale."

"Although we suspected that the Otago Canyons would be good habitat for deep diving odontocetes such as sperm whales and beaked whales, nobody had really been out to have a proper look.

"We were delighted that our suspicions were confirmed, and to make two sightings of these whales is really exciting. The species is very rarely sighted, and we saw two groups in two days! It shows that the Otago coast and the canyons just offshore is very important habitat for marine mammals."

The most recent sightings will be included in a review paper that will be produced by a collaboration of researchers from the Otago Museum, Otago University and the Department of Conservation.

The surveys are being funded by a University of Otago Research Grant to Dr Will Rayment.
-end-


University of Otago

Related Whales Articles:

Fishing less could be a win for both lobstermen and endangered whales
A new study by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found that New England's historic lobster fishery may turn a higher profit by operating with less gear in the water and a shorter season.
North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer condition than Southern right whales
New research by an international team of scientists reveals that endangered North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer body condition than their counterparts in the southern hemisphere.
Solar storms could scramble whales' navigational sense
When our sun belches out a hot stream of charged particles in Earth's general direction, it doesn't just mess up communications satellites.
A better pregnancy test for whales
To determine whale pregnancy, researchers have relied on visual cues or hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, but the results were often inconclusive.
Why whales are so big, but not bigger
Whales' large bodies help them consume their prey at high efficiencies, a more than decade-long study of around 300 tagged whales now shows, but their gigantism is limited by prey availability and foraging efficiency.
Whales stop being socialites when boats are about
The noise and presence of boats can harm humpback whales' ability to communicate and socialise, in some cases reducing their communication range by a factor of four.
Endangered whales react to environmental changes
Some 'canaries' are 50 feet long, weigh 70 tons, and are nowhere near a coal mine.
Stranded whales detected from space
A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space.
Hush, little baby: Mother right whales 'whisper' to calves
A recent study led by Syracuse University biology professor Susan Parks in Biology Letters explores whether right whale mother-calf pairs change their vocalizations to keep predators from detecting them.
Researchers use drones to weigh whales
Researchers from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) in Denmark and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US devised a way to accurately estimate the weight of free-living whales using only aerial images taken by drones.
More Whales News and Whales Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.