New Zealand whale probe on US TV

Date: 1/6/2006

Steve O’Shea, the director of the Earth and Oceanic Sciences Research Institute at the Auckland University of Technology, is currently investigating the death of a young calf, a Haast’s beaked whale, which measured only two metres when it died at at Jackson Bay, south of Haast. The species, also known as the Gray’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon grayi), is often found stranded around New Zealand. Dr O’Shea’s investigation, in collaboration with other experts, will be televised on the Discovery Channel in the United States on 14 July. Before the filming, Dr O’Shea said five species of squid and octopus in New Zealand seas were classified as critically endangered. The reason this was important was the role of some species in the diet of toothed whales, such as the largest species, sperm whales and the smaller Haast’s species. Forty years ago, 37% of the diet of sperm whales in New Zealand waters was fish species now taken by trawlers as commercial catch. By the 1990s, sperm whales were reduced to eating 100% squid. He also said 16 recent strandings on west coast Auckland beaches had involved whales which had been malnourished and disoriented, apparently because of food shortages. Researchers say that 78 of the 85 species of squid in New Zealand waters released egg masses to breed but the fragile, gelatinous eggs were being cut to ribbons by trawlers’ nets. This is causing the collapse of squid stocks, which have become staple in the diet of these whales. Researchers say ‘These whales are not eating anything, there is nothing left’.

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