University of Auckland scientists and marine conservation charity, Live Ocean, are encouraging the public to report sightings of southern right whales, New Zealand's tohorā, to help boost knowledge about where they move around and how their migration is being affected by climate change.

In the 1800s southern right whales were hunted almost to extinction and by 1920 there were thought to be only 40 from the original estimated population of 30,000.

However, an international hunting ban and a marine reserve in the Auckland Islands has allowed the species to recover, by 2009 there were thought to be about 2000.

As their numbers increase the whales are returning around New Zealand's mainland.


"Over the next few months southern right whales can literally be seen anywhere along Aotearoa New Zealand's coastline," says University of Auckland and Rutherford Discovery Fellow lead researcher Dr Emma Carroll.

"Every sighting helps us understand what areas are important to the whales and how we could protect them in the future. We need the public to tell us what they're seeing out on the ocean."

Data from the public will help increase knowledge of whale distribution and movements around the country and bolster the satellite tracking programme, which will begin when researchers visit the Auckland Islands next month.

They are also asking for people to report sightings of other whales such as humpback whales, blue whales and sperm whales.

A recent study involving researchers from across Australia and New Zealand indicated a startling change from the whaling era.

It showed that two tracked whales went to west of New Zealand up towards Australia rather than to the east as expected.

Sightings of whales can be reported to the Department of Conservation hotline 0800 DOCHOT (0800 362 468).

It is key that the details including the number of whales and calves and the direction they were travelling are recorded; if possible it is beneficial for photographs or videos to be taken.