New Zealand Defence Force conducts whale census

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) recently carried out a census of southern right whales in the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands.

Air Commodore Tim Walshe, the Air Component Commander, said more than 100 whales were sighted during a surveillance patrol by a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft at Auckland Islands and Campbell Island.

“In this Orion patrol, we took aerial photos to assist the Department of Conservation (DOC) in tracking individual whales, building a better picture of the species as a whole and monitoring the recovery of these protected species,” Air Commodore Walshe said.

DOC Manager Marine Species and Threats Ian Angus said the census results indicated that the southern right whale population, which is classified as “nationally vulnerable”, was continuing to recover. 

Whaling reduced the southern right whale population, from more than 30,000 at the turn of the 20th century to less than 150 about 1920, according to DOC. Their number was estimated at 2,000 in 2009.

“We’ve always known that the southern right whales spend the winter and spring around the Sub-Antarctic Islands but getting down there at this time of the year is challenging,” Mr Angus said.

Southern right whales are a native migrant to New Zealand. They are typically black but can have irregular white patches, and have large, paddle-shaped flippers.

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