Southern Right Whales

Conservation

Since their protection in 1935 and the cessation of whaling, southern right whales in New Zealand waters have faced minimal conservation problems. But this is no reason for complacency, it is likely that once these whales re-colonise former habitats, particularly those along the mainland coasts overlapping with human activities, the potential for adverse impacts will increase.

We can learn much from the harsh lessons with the North Atlantic right whale. A close relation of the southern right whale, the 400 whales in the North Atlantic have suffered 24+ deaths from ship strike since 1970 and over 75% of live whales have scars from entanglement in fishing gear. Their effective area for communication has also been reduced by 90% over the last 100 years due to noise pollution. The whales modify their calls when ship noise is loud by shifting their frequency and calling less often. Additionally there are the cumulative impacts of pollution, ecosystem effects of fishing and climate change.

One focus of our research is to provide an accurate estimate of the current population and the rate of population recovery. Using whaling records and current habitat preferences at the Auckland Islands we will also predict which areas in New Zealand are likely to be preferred habitat for the whales. This research will enable us to be proactive when managing this recolonising population by predicting where threats are likely to be greatest (e.g. plans for marine farms and other human activities in the whales' habitat and migration routes). Focusing our research on understanding different right whale sounds, understanding the context in which they are made and examining background noise, will also help us to understand the significance of acoustic pollution and its potential impact on right whale recovery.

Researching the Southern Right WhaleResearching the Southern Right Whale

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