The New Zealand Defence Force doesn't usually take to the skies to conduct surveillance with the Department of Conservation, but when it does, it's for a whale census.
The two organisations recently linked up to conduct a census of southern right whales in the New Zealand subantarctic islands.
The whales, also known as tohora, are a native migrant to New Zealand.
They are typically black but can have irregular white patches, and have large, paddle-shaped flippers.
More than 100 whales were sighted during the patrol by the Royal New Zealand Air Force using P-3K2 Orion over the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island, Air Commodore Tim Walshe, the Air Component Commander said.
"In this Orion patrol, we took aerial photos to assist the Department of Conservation in tracking individual whales, building a better picture of the species as a whole and monitoring the recovery of these protected species."
The Defence Force regularly supports other government agencies providing aircraft and ships for monitoring and surveillance, Walshe said.
The census results indicated that the southern right whale population, which is classified as "nationally vulnerable", was continuing to recover from the significant impact of whaling and other present-day threats, DoC manager marine species and threats Ian Angus said.
"We've always known that the southern right whales spend the winter and spring around the subantarctic Islands but getting down there at this time of the year is challenging," Angus said.
"In partnership with the NZDF, we have been able to monitor some of our wildlife and continue to understand when and how southern right whales are using the subantarctic Islands."
In 2015 a breakthrough by Kiwi and Australian researchers revealed new insights into the patterns of southern right whales, which could aid conservation efforts.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was the first of its kind to link migratory habits to the genetics of such a large moving network of marine mammal.
Led by former Auckland University scientist Dr Emma Carroll, now at the University of St Andrews in the UK, the research team was able to demonstrate how young whales acquired their migration preferences from their parents in a practice known as migratory culture, causing them to follow the same routes to get to their desired destination when they grow older.
Dr Rochelle Constantine, from Auckland University's marine mammal ecology group, said the species was hunted so intensively, mainly throughout the 1800s, that it was almost lost.
A long-running genetic and photographic identification programme, operated from the university, was tracking southern right whales around the Auckland Islands, where they were mainly found, but increasingly now also around mainland New Zealand.
"Part of understanding the recovery of the species is movement patterns - where does it go to feed? Where does it go to calf?" Constantine said.
"This study shows that the patterns of mothers are really important because the calf is always accompanying its mother, and therefore that calf will learn where to travel."
Southern right whales
• During the breeding season in winter and spring, they are mostly found in the waters around the subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands but there are occasional sightings around mainland New Zealand.
• Typically black in colour but can have irregular white patches.
• Their flippers are large and paddle-shaped, and while they're slow swimmers, can be very acrobatic and are also inquisitive.
• Range in size from 4.5m-6m (newborn) and 11-18m (adults).