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Tohora : Southern Right Whale Eubalaena australis

Southern Right Whales are gregarious animals, they often approach boats closely so that their markings are easily seen below the surface. Their curiosity made them the 'right' whale in the bad old days of whaling.

This video shows how a Tohorā gently lifts a double kayak out of the water as they paddled around a pod!

The shore hugging habits of the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) make land based viewing possible, one was even spotted in 2015 along Mount Maunganui main beach!

beautiful image of a friendly tohorā, looking back at marine parade!
Māori have a long association with whales. While whales provided food and utensils, they also feature in tribal traditions and were sometimes guardians on the ancestors’ canoe journeys to Aotearoa.

Oral histories recall interactions between people and whales in tribal stories, carvings, specialised language and place names. There is also a wealth of tribal knowledge about whales. Tohorā are considered a taonga species, and represent abundance, richness and were regarded as chiefly animals.

sadly, Southern right whales were hunted to brink of extinction in the early 19th century, with fewer than 100 whales remaining when whaling ceased.
IT MUST HAVE been like shooting fish in a barrel. According to whalers’ records—incomplete at best—they had flensed 38,000 southern right whales in the South Atlantic, 39,000 in the South Pacific, 1300 in the Indian Ocean and 15,000 in the North Pacific, all before the global ban on whaling the species in 1935. Whale populations in New Zealand waters were among the most intensively exploited in the world—the take peaked at 2288 whales in 1839, involving some 150 ships and 80 shore stations. As a result, southern rights simply vanished from the mainland coast, and sightings are now rare.
These whales were highly prized by whalers for their oil (used for heating and lighting) and whalebone (or baleen), which was made into corsets and parasols.
Right whales are Baleen or filter feeders, sieving high densities of tiny creatures, such as copepods, from the water using their 2-3 metre long baleen plates.
Copepods are a group of small crustaceans found in nearly every freshwater and saltwater habitat. Itmust take alot of these to satiate a large whale!
In 2009 the number of right whales in NZ waters was approximately 2000 individuals, less than 10% of their original population size. Southern right whales are now thought to be recovering steadily, with the NZ population increasing at about 5% per year.
The southern right whale or tohorā is a large, stocky, distinctive whale with no dorsal fin and a v-shaped blow.
Right whales have callosities (rough growths of keratin on their heads) which are uniquely shaped and allow individual whales to be identified.These callosities form patches along the top of their head, along their lips and on their chin and are infested with whale lice (cyamids) which feed on the rough, dead skin.
Southern right whales are migratory, spending summers offshore feeding and winters inshore breeding and calving. Currently the subantarctic Auckland Islands are thought to be the primary calving ground in NZ waters.

A great graphic showing the diversity on and around the amazing subantarctic Auckland Islands.

Whales congregate in the shallow, sheltered waters of Port Ross to give birth and nurse their calves.

Here is a short and beautiful video of footage from Otago University ocean researchers

Right whales are remarkably long-lived, likely reaching 100+ years old. Females typically have a single calf every three years once they mature at ~ 9 years old. The calves grow very quickly due to their diet of rich, fatty milk.
As with all marine mammals, sound is extremely important for southern right whales as a means of communication. Right whales produce a wide range of low frequency calls including moans, impulsive gunshot sounds, upcalls, downcalls and noisy blows.

short clip of Right Whale song

How can we could improve the habitat of the Southern Right Whale? Some measures include moving shipping lanes, assigning whale spotters to boats, introducing speed limits and educating mariners to avoid ship strike.

Residents of Wellington Harbour were delighted to have a Southern Right Whale visit in April 2018

A strong measure would involve Establishing Marine Protected Areas to reduce the risk of entanglement in fishing gear and illegal poaching.

Only two of New Zealand's biogeographic regions have a significant area protected in marine reserve: the Kermadec Islands and Subantarctic Islands. Around the world, marine reserves are important in achieving marine conservation goals. They do so by conserving habitats and biodiversity, maintaining marine communities, and fostering the recovery of some species.

CURRENT SITUATION: There are 33 legally protected marine reserves in New Zealand, which now cover 7.06 per cent (12,792 square kilometres) of our territorial sea – within 12 nautical miles of the coast. Most of this protection is found in the two offshore island reserves. Some key habitats and ecosystems remain unprotected.

Let's lobby for more marine reserves in New Zealand! Greenpeace are at the forefront of this activism.

Below is an article from Science Magazine discussing how the Artcic Circle has been saved from commerical fishing for the next 16 years. Lets create the same surety for the Antarctic.

Plastics that wash into the ocean can easily become ingested by marine mammals, there are numerous coastal clean ups around the world, attempting to stop these products reaching the sea. Join one near you!

Check our Facebook Page regularly and also Council websites for any Coast Care clean ups, Projects by Bren run regular clean ups at the Mount and Papamoa along with sharing great information about Zero Waste

Colour in these neat Marine Scenes with a few of our ocean heros in there. Post in the comments for todays Tohora presentation on Envirohub BOPs Facebook page

Check out Project Jonah! Get involved.

New Zealand has long opposed so-called ‘scientific’ whaling! We Take a strong stance on protecting Whales.

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