CORVALLIS, Ore. After being hunted to local extinction more than a century ago and unable to remember their ancestral calving grounds, the southern right whales of mainland New Zealand are coming home.
A new study published today has shown for the first time that whales from a small surviving population around remote, sub-Antarctic islands have found their way back to the New Zealand mainland.
Before the onslaught of 19th century whaling, historical records suggest that up to 30,000 of these impressive whales once migrated each winter to New Zealand's many sandy, well-protected bays to give birth and raise their calves. As a particularly social and acrobatic species, they could be seen from shore as they frolicked, slapped their tails and breached almost entirely out of the water.
And now they're coming back, according to researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Auckland and other institutions. The findings were just published in Marine Ecology Progress Series.
"We used DNA profiling to confirm that seven whales are now migrating between the sub-Antarctic islands and mainland New Zealand," said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU who initiated a study of these whales in 1995.
"These are probably just the first pioneers," Baker said. "The protected bays of New Zealand are excellent breeding grounds, and I suspect that we may soon see a pulse of new whales following the pioneers, to colonize their former habitat."
Because of their playful behavior and inclination to swim close to shore, Baker said, southern right whales have become a major tourist attraction in Argentina and South Africa, where their population has increased more rapidly.
The right whales three species are now recognized earned their names from the dubious distinction of being the "right" species to kill. They could be hunted from small boats launched from shore, they could
|Contact: Scott Baker|
Oregon State University