Blue whale dorsal fin, as seen during a whale survey, Cook Strait Area
Image: Nadine Gibbs | DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


A two-week research expedition to gather data on the elusive, endangered blue whale within New Zealand’s shores is due to set sail on Sunday 28 January.

Date:  26 January 2018

Researchers from the Department of Conservation (DOC), the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Blue Planet Marine (BPM) will be on board for the NIWA-led expedition in the Cook Strait and off the coast of south Taranaki, where they’ll tag and biopsy blue whales.

DOC’s Deputy Director General Biodiversity, Martin Kessick, says the more we can find out about this endangered species, the better.

“Blue whales were almost hunted to extinction last century. They’re slowly coming back, but will need much more help through local and international efforts.”

Mr Kessick says the research will add to our current understanding of the size, health and migration patterns of New Zealand’s blue whale population.

“There are ongoing discussions regarding the proposed marine mammal sanctuary off the South Taranaki coast. DOC will use the research results to inform decisions on protection measures for blue whales.”

NIWA megafauna expert and marine ecologist Dr Kim Goetz, who is leading the expedition, says the team is hoping to tag up to eight whales.

“While the Taranaki region is thought to be an important foraging ground, we currently have little idea about how these whales use the region, including movements in and out of the area which has important management implications.”

DOC is contributing $60,000 towards staff time for the expedition and analysis of the data on the blue whales’ movements.

The research expedition is also supported by OMV, University of Auckland, the Australian Antarctic Division and Western Work Boats.

DOC and NIWA would also like to recognise the input of the Pew Charitable Trust, which has been instrumental in helping to get this research off the ground.

Background information

Members of the six-person crew will tag and biopsy blue whales in the Cook Strait and Taranaki Bight (the large ‘bay’ off the coast of south Taranaki).

An airgun will be used to shoot a tag on to the whale. The tag will transmit location and water temperature data via satellite for four to six months. The tag will eventually fall off the whale.

For the biopsy, a dart is fired at the whale to collect a small skin and blubber sample. The crew then collects the dart with the sample from the water. The sample will provide genetic information about the blue whale population.


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