Endangered Southern Right Whales Returning to Mainland New Zealand

First Posted: Apr 08, 2013 08:23 AM EDT

In a latest finding, scientists have shown how mainland New Zealand is becoming an important habitat for the endangered southern right whales, reports The University of Auckland.

The endangered southern right whales are large baleen whales that are seen throughout the southern hemisphere. They often migrate between low-latitude winter breeding grounds and higher latitude feeding grounds. They were close to extinction during the 19th century.

"This endangered whale now seems to be a regular visitor to mainland of New Zealand," lead author Dr. Emma Carroll from The University of Auckland said in a press statement. "For the first time we have documented southern right whales returning to the mainland, including females returning with their calves in different years."

Mainland New Zealand is becoming an important habitat for whale mothers and their calves.

Nearly 28 mother-calf pairs were spotted between 2003 and 2010; whereas between 1991-2002, just 11 pairs were spotted, indicating an increase in their sightings. In contrast, researchers could not trace even a single mother-calf pair during 1976-1991.

Initially, nearly 10,000 southern right whales were seen in New Zealand's coastal waters but their numbers drastically dropped from the mainland due to extensive whaling.

"We now have photo-ID matches confirming that the same individuals are moving back and forth between the Auckland Islands and the mainland," said co-author Dr. Will Rayment from the University of Otago.

He states that this is positive news, indicating that the population is increasing at the Auckland Islands. Scientists hope to spot many more whales around the mainland in the future.

A public awareness campaign was launched by New Zealand's Department of Conservation in the year 2003, with an aim to monitor the number of whales around the country. The project was a combined effort of researchers from The University of Auckland, University of Otago and Oregon State University.

The details have been published in the current issue of Marine Mammal Science.

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