Whales are regular visitors to Northland at this time of year as many go on their migration, but not enough is known about these mighty marine mammals.

So scientists want Northlanders to report any sightings of whales, particularly southern right whales, to help increase knowledge of whale distribution and movements around the country.

Tohorā/southern right whales are a remarkable conservation story and as their numbers increase, these whales are returning to the New Zealand coast.

Whales are regular visitors to Northland at this time of year, with this orca snapped in Whangārei Harbour. Scientists want Northlanders to report any sightings of whales to help with their research.
Whales are regular visitors to Northland at this time of year, with this orca snapped in Whangārei Harbour. Scientists want Northlanders to report any sightings of whales to help with their research.

Southern right whales were hunted to the verge of extinction and hunting for them was banned in 1935 but illegal Russian whaling continued until the 1970s. Whalers considered right whales to be the "right" whale to hunt because they are slow swimmers and easy to catch.

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However, little is known about where these gentle giants go outside their subantarctic refuge and how their migration is being affected by climate change.

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Watch: Whales and dolphins enjoying life in lockdown. Video / Jacob Blaikie / Charles Sheen

Scientists from the University of Auckland, in partnership with marine conservation charity Live Ocean, are asking the public to report southern right whale - and any other whale - sightings to the Department of Conservation hotline on 0800 DOCHOT.

Southern right, humpback, blue and sperm whales are the most common around mainland New Zealand in the winter months from June to October.

Data from public sightings 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 in August this year.

A key part of the campaign is how to record the details including the number of whales and calves, direction they were travelling and how to take photographs or videos using identifying marks. It also aims to educate the public on how to be whale wise at sea.

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Southern right whale facts:

The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) can be found in subtropical and waters of the Southern Hemisphere. They are quite curious and playful when they are close to humans.

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Unlike the North Atlantic and North Pacific whales (both endangered), the southern right whale has started to recover from centuries of commercial hunting.

It is one of the largest species of whale: the average male is 13 to 15 metres long and the average female is about 16m. They weigh around 40 tonnes.

The characteristic calluses on the skin function like fingerprints, and identify each whale throughout its life. Calluses are elevated areas of skin (more than 5cm thick) on different parts of their heads.

They are calm, curious and quite slow to swim (reaching maximum speeds of 9 to 11 km/h). To communicate they jump and splash their fins in the water and they can live to 100.

Instead of teeth they use baleen plates to catch their food. Baleen are long sheets of keratin (the same as hair and fingernails) that hang from the top of the mouth. These baleen allow them to feed by filter.

They feed mainly on krill and small fish.

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