A rare southern right whale has been seen frolicking in the waves in Wellington Harbour this morning.

The mammal was first spotted by a passenger on a train travelling into the city just before 9am.

The Department of Conservation said it looked to be a southern right whale.

NIWA marine ecologist Kim Goetz said they had also recorded sounds recently thought to be from that species.

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She said there have been various signs pointing to southern right whales returning to the area.

Boaties keen to get a glimpse are being asked to keep their distance.

Harbourmaster Grant Nalder said they were making sure all vessels out on the water were aware of the whale's presence.

"The advice is to keep clear and give the whale some space."