One of New Zealand's most endangered whales made a rare appearance with her calf off Castlecliff yesterday.
Lorraine and Bob Gannon spotted the pair of southern right whales from their Kapiti Terrace home at 10.30am and immediately called the Conservation Department.
"When I first saw them, they were really close, just behind those breakers. We thought they were going to get beached."
The couple had seen orcas about five months ago and were excited to discover the latest sighting were southern rights, Mrs Gannon said.
DoC conservation officer Rosemary Miller said the whales had been successfully photographed and a skin sample taken yesterday, which would be a great help in their tracking of the rare species.
The spotting was exciting because it helped the department's tracking. It was vital that members of the public kept ringing in about sightings if the whales were to be protected.
DoC biodiversity programme manager Jim Campbell said southern right whales had been hunted nearly to extinction until the 1960s. "They are called southern right because they are the 'right' whale to hunt.
"They are slow, don't dive deep and obligingly float when they're dead. Perfect for whalers."
The population of the species around the inner shores of New Zealand was "critical" to this day. DoC had systematically monitored it for only about a year, so was unable to say whether the population was increasing or decreasing, but estimated there were only 12-20 whales left around the New Zealand coast.
The only other southern right population in the world was a sub-Antarctic group numbering about 1000, but it appeared the two groups did not mix. The entire population was thought once to have been about 16,000. "This South Taranaki Bight area used to be called Mothering Bay because so many of these whales came to calve here. Sometimes there were up to 3000 whales in this bay at a time," Mr Campbell said.
The Southern Right Whale grows to about 15 metres long, is mostly black, has no dorsal fin and has white growths called callosities on its head. These are so distinctive that individual whales can be identified.
DoC is keen for members of the public to report all whale sightings on 0800 DOCHOT (O800 362468).
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