Archives For marine mammals

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Nadine Bott, Project Leader for the Cook Strait Whale Project based in Wellington.

At work

Collecting biopsy samples from humpback whales in the Cook Strait. Photo: Marlborough Express.

Collecting biopsy samples of humpback whales

Some things I do in my job include:

I’m currently overseeing the Cook Strait whale project. Before going on maternity leave in 2012 I was with DOC for almost 10 years working in the marine and freshwater teams. My role at the moment involves keeping the project afloat, organising the logistics of the whale survey, undertaking the research and then writing up the season’s work. The research involves spotting for humpback whales from a land based lookout on East Head of Tory Channel, going out in the DOC Kaikoura boat ‘Titi’ and approaching the whales to take photo identification samples of the tail flukes and biopsy skin samples for DNA analysis.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

It is a collaborative project with the community and business with considerable volunteer support, while achieving (hopefully!) a greater understanding of humpback whales to aid in their conservation, management and protection.

The best bit about my job is:

Working with a variety of different people within DOC and externally, working with whales and having an ‘office’ in a pretty spectacular place.

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

While working in the subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands. Pretty hard place to beat in terms of ‘awesome-est’. I would love to go back one day.

Nadine measuring Chatham Island mudfish.

Measuring Chatham Island mudfish – an endemic poorly known freshwater fish

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

I would have to say the RMA planners that I worked with, Sarah Bagnall, Janice Duncan and Claire Graeme – three incredibly smart, enquiring, passionate and courageous women. Another would be Roy Grose, an inspiring leader loved by his community and who has always been supportive and instrumental in getting the whale survey up and running. I have great respect for the rangers in the field who give their heart, energy and time to conservation with little reward or expectation of reward.

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is:

At the moment it is Birdy ‘Light me up’.

My greatest sporting moment was when:

While walking 100 kilometres for Oxfam I remember complaining that my burst blisters hurt more than childbirth and a lady who overheard my comment said ‘you obviously haven’t given birth’. My naive response was ‘you obviously haven’t walked 100 kilometres on burst blisters’.

Nadine with her camera taking photos of humpback whales in Cook Strait.

Photo identification of humpback whales in Cook Strait

In my spare time:

I don’t have any.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be:

I have a few favourite animal species but I like to be warm and they all seem to live in cold water.

Before working at DOC:

I worked at Massey University doing autopsies on stranded and bycaught marine mammals.

Nadine and her family at WOMAD.

At WOMAD with my family: David, Dayananda (2) and Aroha (3 months)

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given:

That I can do it and not to listen to skeptics.

In work and life I am motivated by:

Compassion, selflessness, people in action

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Stand up for what you believe in.

Nadine with Carlos Olavarria and Joe Heberley looking for humpbacks through binoculars from Arapawa Island.

With Carlos Olavarria and Joe Heberley (ex-whaler from Perano Whaling Station) looking for humpbacks

Question of the week…

What is your favourite marine mammal and why?

A tricky question because every species I have worked on has had its unique strength or endearing characteristic. I would probably have to say southern right whales because when I worked with them it was in the Auckland Islands where they were breeding and this is a pretty spectacular site plus there were calves which are incredibly cute. The whales were interactive, gentle and very visible with lots of breaching, tail slapping and rolling around on the water surface. It is easy to see how they were hunted so effectively by shore based whalers leading to their near extinction.

Nadine and others audio conferencing with LEARNZ students.

Live audio conferencing with schools as part of the LEARNZ Wandering Whales virtual field trip

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Hannah Hendriks, Marine Conservation Technician, based in DOC’s National Office in Wellington…

Swimming on Taputeranga Island, Island Bay, Wellington.

Swimming in Island Bay, Wellington

At work

Some things I do in my job include:

Being the point of contact in National Office for the operational side of marine mammal sightings and incidents, including managing and maintaining the data associated with these.

I have been involved with getting our Maui’s dolphin sightings and incidents data out of spreadsheets and into a geospatial database—wider marine mammal data is the next step in this process.

I am also responsible for improving the availability of our data and information to the public as well as updating and distributing our awareness resources. Plus a bit of everything else.

Embracing the weather in Doubtful Sound.

Embracing the weather in Doubtful Sound

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Improving the knowledge and public awareness of marine mammal conservation issues and making our data collection process more time efficient and higher in quality so it can inform conservation management of our threatened species.

The best bit about my job is:

 Having fun on Kapiti Island during the intern field trip

Having fun on Kapiti Island during the intern field trip

Working with such amazing, kind, and inspiring people (directly in National Office and through phone and email contact with district offices and field bases).

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

Working with the American students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) on their raising awareness of Maui’s dolphin project.

Such an awesome group of energetic, enthusiastic and bright students with some absolutely wonderful ideas.

Their ‘Rounded fin? Send it in!’ slogan is better than anything we could have come up with!

Also, our intern field trip to Kapiti Island—beautiful place and inspiring rangers. Was good to get our hands dirty.

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is…

It’s hard to pick one…being so new means that everyone inspires me! Especially those rangers who do the hard and hands on work on the coasts dealing with whale strandings etc.

But, if I had to pick one, it would have to be my supervisor, Laura Boren. There is so much marine mammal knowledge stored in that brain, she knows how to deal with every situation and that is what I want to be able to do at some point in the future.

I stood in her shoes to some degree while she was in Africa for a month, which was daunting to say the least.

I also have to mention Katie Clemens because she is like Wonder Woman.

Doing the Tongariro Crossing as a child. Something I really want to do again.

Doing the Tongariro Crossing as a child. Something I really want to do again

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is…

I ended up changing this answer three times (have you noticed I’m not very decisive?) so I’ll just give you all of them—Feel Good Inc by Gorillaz, One more Time by Daft Punk and Breezeblocks by Alt-J.

The best piece of news I’ve heard lately is:

My contract was getting extended past the internship programme period; and compliments from a ranger saying that I did a good job dealing with a whale stranding while I was holding down the fort for Laura.

My secret indulgence is:

Disney and Pixar movies and music.

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to…

Well ever since I was little I wanted to be a zoo keeper and I think I would still like to do that.

Before working at DOC:

I was doing my Masters in Marine Conservation at Victoria University which gave me some awesome experiences such as going to Heron Island to experience some tropical conservation topics and doing some field science in the beautiful Doubtful Sound.

Sunset on Heron Island,  in the southern Great Barrier Reef.

Sunset on Heron Island, in the southern Great Barrier Reef

So I guess I was one of the lucky ones to jump straight out of study (actually while I was still studying!) into specifically what I wanted to do. Dream job.

Deep and meaningful…

Graduating my Masters in December, with my dad.

Graduating my Masters in December, with my dad

My favourite quote is…

I don’t know if this is a quote but “Just do it”. It might sound cheesy but it is very appropriate if you’re like me and get anxious at the prospect of doing new things.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is:

Don’t spend your money paying off more of your interest free student loan than you need to. Spend your extra money on travels and experiences. Hello Alaska in June!

In work and life I am motivated by:

Basically I just try my best to make the most of my time doing things I enjoy and to not waste opportunities (that’s how I got here).

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Go out and do something in nature, even if it is small, it will increase your passion and awareness for New Zealand’s natural environment.

Question of the week…

What’s the kindest thing that someone has ever done for you?

One of the kindest things I can think of that has affected my life is how both my step parents treat me like their own family and support me in everything I do and make my life very pleasant! Plus they are both taking me overseas in the near future and if that’s not kind then I don’t know what is!

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Callum Lilley, Biodiversity Ranger in Taranaki.

At work

Callum Lilley holding a dotterel. Photo: Emily King.

Feeding time for New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu

Some things I do in my job include… marine reserve monitoring, maintaining marine reserve infrastructure, compliance, marine mammal work, making recommendations on a range of things such as Resource Management Act consent applications/renewals, permits, seismic survey impact assessments, writing management plans, reports, public relations material, providing advice and information on marine matters, liaising/working with community groups, iwi, other stakeholders, bird rescue, assisting with fire responses, and helping out in other areas when called upon.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… helping to look after our natural heritage, and working with others to do so too.

The best bit about my job is… getting out on the water (particularly if marine mammals or diving are involved), and the occasional opportunity to go away on an adventure.

Callum deploying video equipment off a boat. Photo: Bryan Williams.

Deploying baited underwater video equipment, Tapuae Marine Reserve

The funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… a pest fish scare. The threats team in New Plymouth thought they would invite the Taranaki Daily News along to watch them catch a “koi carp” (to raise awareness about pest fish). The orange shape they had previously observed in a murky river turned out to be a road cone. It was an amusing article and it took up half of page (including a large colour photo). The rest of the office got a lot of mileage out of it.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… Bill Fleury. There are so many people I could choose from, but one of them is Bill. I appreciate his understanding of all levels of the Department (having worked in positions ranging from on the ground to providing strategic advice on a myriad of matters). He has exceptional analytical skills and great demeanour (as an aside, some say that I model my desk on Bill’s).

Callum surfing a wave in Fiji.

Surfing tropical waters, Frigates – Fiji

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley.

My stomping ground is… coastal Taranaki. It’s where I grew up and where I love to spend time. It has good fishing, isolated beaches, great waves, the Stony River/Hangatahua, a friend/whanau base and the best view of Maunga Taranaki.

My best ever holiday was… a three week trip to Fiji a couple of years ago. Emily and I busted out of a cold Taranaki winter into the tropics for some epic diving, surfing, fishing, eating, drinking and exploring.

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to… start a microbrewery.

Before working at DOC I… studied (BSc – Zoology, MSc – Marine Science), worked on a computer help desk, worked as a block-layer’s labourer building a rugby stadium, and taught English in South Korea.

Mount Taranaki in the background at dusk.

View of Mt Taranaki from “Graveyards” surf break

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “Give the laziest person the hardest job and they’ll find the easiest way to do it”. Not sure who first said it, or whether it is really true, but a great quote none the less.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… be nice to people.

In work and life I am motivated by… people that are fun to be around, whilst still cracking on and getting a job done.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… live modestly and outsource less. Grow your own food, cook from scratch, brew your own beverages (reuse glass and no longer worry about what the neighbours think on recycling day), pickle and preserve, hunt and eat pests… as much as you can, go back to basics.

A Southern right whale and her calf off the coast of Whanganui.

Southern right whale/tohora mother and calf, Whanganui

Question of the week…

As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up? A pilot or an electrician, until I was told they were no longer options as I was colour blind. However, I wanted to be a marine scientist from when I was about 10 years old.

A sea lion by Callum's boat in the Auckland Islands.

Um… could we please have our boat back? Hoiho survey, Auckland Islands

Fancy enjoying a wilderness wildlife experience 500 metres from your 5-star accommodation? Want to see marine mammals up close whilst standing on dry land sipping a coffee? Then Mount Maunganui is the winter destination for you!

Okay, maybe not quite wilderness, but the Bay of Plenty’s renowned summer party town is fast becoming a winter wildlife hotspot due to the recovery of fur seal populations in the area.

A fur seal pup relaxing at Mount Maunganui. Credit: Joel Ford, Bay of Plenty Times.

A fur seal pup relaxing at Mount Maunganui
Credit: Joel Ford, Bay of Plenty Times.

Visiting fur seals are expected to make a major ‘splash’ in coastal communities along the Bay of Plenty this winter, including in New Zealand’s fifth largest city, Tauranga, and further up the coast in Whakatane. Together with resident little blue penguins, New Zealand fur seals should be coming ashore to rest, having travelled from as far south as Dunedin.

Last year we witnessed spectacular shenanigans like this seal caught climbing onto paddle boats; an early morning visit to the Tauranga waterfront; neighbourly seals tapping on suburban patio windows; and of course the seal that went global after curling up on someone’s couch for the night.

Seals don’t always get good press; and it’s true that they smell, bite and carry diseases—so it’s important to keep your distance.

Some communities are also worried that seals will compete with us for seafood, although evidence suggests they feed mainly on anchovy and lantern fish, which aren’t so popular with humans.

Close up photo of a NZ fur seal face.

New Zealand fur seal up close and personal

On the plus side, seals are a sign of a healthy environment. Historically, they lived all around New Zealand, so it stands to reason that if we continue to look after our place they will return to more of our holiday spots in the future. Next stop, Takapuna Beach?

Visit the DOC website find out more about fur seals and conservation.

By Laura Boren, Senior Technical Support Officer – Marine Mammals, Department of Conservation

Every winter there will be a few young NZ fur seals who find themselves in interesting places, often to the surprise and amusement of the people who stumble across them.

It’s a common occurrence – they are just coming ashore to rest and will move on in their own time.

This fur seal pup found a cosy position by a spa pool in the Marlborough Sounds community of Anakiwa. The exciting thing for me was that the spa pool belonged to friends of my family. So, on a Sunday afternoon I received an excited phone call from the Biggs family asking me what they should do.

Seal pup relaxing by the spa

“If it’s not interfering with anything just leave it,” I said.

“Enjoy it while it’s there – just give it some space because at this time of the year it might not be in great condition and will want to rest.

“It’ll leave when it’s ready,” I assured them.

Later that day I had an equally excited phone call from my parents. My father had been to see the seal pup and had taken several photos. From the photos we could confirm that it was one of this year’s pups, and was likely to have weaned early – seal pups usually wean around 10 months of age, but this one would only be about 7 months old.

So, the pup hung around for the afternoon, resting next to the warm spa pool and, just as suspected, the following morning was gone.

Read ‘Seal drops in for a spa’ story on

Watch a video on the DOC website about how the NZ fur seal is making a return from the brink of extinction

The Tauranga DOC team have been all at sea lately – literally.  

Oscar the seal makes friends wherever he goes

DOC boat the 'Rewa' heads out to Tuhua Marine Reserve for a compliance check

Rangers Dan and Dave have been speaking at the local Bluewater Classic & One Base fishing competition briefings and regularly patrolling the Tuhua Marine Reserve to make sure that everyone knows where the marine reserve is and keeps their fishing rods out of it.  Dan is also making preparations for next week’s annual fish survey in the reserve with marine studies staff and students from the Bay of Plenty Polytech.  

Tuhua Marine Reserve is one of over 30 no-take marine reserves established around New Zealand to protect marine organisms and their habitats for future generations to come.  It’s a great place to dive or snorkel and enjoy some magical underwater scenery.  

Ranger Laura has been catching up with our local permitted dolphin watching operators to make sure they’re keeping the best interests of the dolphins at heart. Commercial operators can help to protect dolphins by giving people the opportunity to see, fall in love with and learn about them.  The permits we issue and monitor require operators to meet set conditions and follow the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations so that their impacts on the dolphins are minimised.  

All boaties can help to look after whales, dolphins and seals by making sure that they know and follow the rules.  The regulations include rules about safe boat speed, distance and angles of approach so that people can enjoy watching whales, dolphins and seals without causing them harm.  

Oscar in action at the Maketu Kaimoana Festival

Awhi helps a young fisherman to learn about marine reserve rules a size limits

Our Maori Cadet – Ranger Awhi & I took Oscar the seal to the Maketu Kaimoana Festival last weekend.  We use him to help us educate people  about marine reserves and marine mammal protection.  We also set up a fishing game so that kids (and their parents) could learn the no-fishing rule in marine reserves and practice measuring fish to check if they meet the Ministry of Fisheries size limits for recreational fishing.   

With Seaweek (7-14 March) coming up  I’ve got more work for Oscar this weekend – I’ll be taking him down to the Mount Maunganui Underwater Club Clean-up at Pilot Bay on Saturday to meet the locals there.  There’s lots happening around the country for Seaweek – its all listed on the website:  Some of the Tauranga event line-up includes:  

  • a public ‘virtual tour’ of the Tuhua Marine Reserve that Ranger Pete is organising on Thursday 11th March where our marine scientist – Kim Young, will share underwater photos and the findings from over a decade of fish monitoring in the reserve
  • A Sea Bird Cruise with the South Sea Sailing Company and local bird expert Tony Crocker on 13th March
  • a marine photography field trip with Dr Kim Westerskov and Captain Graeme Butler on 21 March & 11 April

Aside from Seaweek, March is a good month in Tauranga for getting involved in or learning more about caring for our environment. The Tauranga Environment Centre have put together an amazing calendar of events for “Sustainable Backyards” month; from an educational harbour cruise or guided bush walk to organic farm tours and cheese-making workshops, there’s something for everyone – make sure you check it out.  

Sea you out there!