Wellington harbour has been getting lots of attention lately thanks to a visit from a southern right whale. With so many questions being asked our Marine Species Support Officer Hannah Hendriks gives us the scoop on deciphering whale behaviour.
Q: The harbour can be a busy place. How far away should people be from the whale?
There have been multiple reports of kayakers and boats getting too close to the whale, and we have been working with the Police and Harbourmaster to manage this. We recognise that the whale may pop up next to boats, or close the gap itself, but we recommend people give the whale as much space as possible to move around. At a minimum, anyone on the water should stay more than 50m where it is safe to do so, abide by the three vessel rule (no more than three vessels, including kayaks, within 300m), and take turns viewing the whale. No swimming is allowed in the vicinity of the whale.
Q: What are the risks of being too close to the whale?
One of the main risks from high vessel traffic around the whale is vessel strike, including damage from propellers.
Q: Does it have a name?
A: The whale has not been named by DOC but there seem to be various suggestions floating around social media channels.
Q: What gender is the whale?
We don’t know yet. The genetic sample collected by ourselves and NIWA on Wednesday should be able to tell us, but is not likely to be processed for several months.
Q: The whale’s been visiting for a few days now. Should we be concerned?
This is typical behaviour of this species.
Q: It’s been putting on a great show! What does this mean – is it happy to be here?
Anything is possible. It could be reacting to a range of novel experiences, positively (wow, this is exciting!) or negatively (you’re too close, please back off!). We simply don’t know what the whale is thinking, which is why we encourage respectful observation from an appropriate distance. Southern right whales are known to be quite acrobatic. This is a good reason to keep your distance, as a breaching whale could harm anyone who approaches too closely.
Q: Wellington is known for its coffee and cafe culture but what is the whale eating while it’s here?
Krill. They’re baleen whales!
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