Whale Watchers Fear the Worst – 11/6/03

Date: 1/6/2003

The Southern Wright Whale could be lost to New Zealand waters forever if the Department of Conservation theory is correct.

DOC is seeking information from the public to confirm speculation that the 23 whales identified from New Zealand sightings could be a different population from the 850 identified in the subantarctic islands.

Nelson-Marlborough conservancy marine specialist, Andrew Baxter, said the whales could be identified from the growths on their heads, called callosities, which were like thumbprints or individual signatures. So far none of the 23 whales identified in New Zealand waters match the 850 recorded sightings in the Auckland and Campbell subantarctic islands, giving rise to fears that they may be a small, separate group.

Information from the public was urgently needed to determine whether the whales were a separate population. Photographs of the left side of the head were particularly useful for identifying individual whales.

Southern right whales grow up to 18 metres in length. They are black and are easily identified by lack of a dorsal fin and the callosities on their heads.

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