Rare whale needs our help

25 February 2009


Fears are growing for a Gray’s beaked whale, which has made Whangaparaoa its temporary home. The young whale, presumed to be a juvenile, appears underweight and is far from deep ocean waters, where it would normally hunt and roam.

The Department of Conservation urges the public to remember that by law, no more than 3 vessels should be within 300 metres of the animal at any one time and that boats should travel no faster than idle or ‘no wake’ speed. A minimum distance of at least 50 metres needs to be kept at all times and the animal should not be circled or its path obstructed, nor should sudden or repeated changes in boat direction be made.

“Unfortunately this whale has a curious nature and it seems to like chasing the wake of moving boats’’, says Kimberly Muncaster, Project Jonah CEO. ‘’We hope that people will do the right thing and give this animal lots of space''.

With its long beak and dark gray body, the Gray’s beaked whale has been mistaken for both a common and bottlenose dolphin by local residents. Unlike dolphins, however, it is illegal under the Marine Mammals Protection Act (1978) to swim with whales in New Zealand. Penalties for doing so can result in 6 months imprisonment or fines up to $250,000.

“Contact with the whale should be avoided at all costs, as disease can be passed from human to whale, and vice versa, and fingernails, rings and watches can gauge chunks out of their delicate skin.”

Little is known about Gray’s beaked whales, an elusive species rarely seen alive. Most of what is known about Gray’s beaked whales comes from data collected from these animals when they wash up dead or beach on our shores.

The Department of Conservation, Project Jonah and Massey University have worked closely together to monitor and track this animal’s movements and record its behaviour. ‘’We’re blown away by what we’ve seen so far’’, Kimberly says. ‘’Whilst we’re learning lots about this species from this one individual, we hope that it will move back to safer grounds and deeper water soon’’.

If you’re the first to discover a stranded dolphin or whale in New Zealand call DOC on 0800 DOC HOT or Project Jonah on 0800 4 WHALE immediately. Click here to find out more.

What you can do to help

It's up to you to do the right thing.  The longer this whale stays in the area the greater the risk of it becoming injured by passing watercraft or stranding on our shores.

  • Don't swim with it (swimming with whales in New Zealand is illegal)
  • If you're already in the water and it approaches you, move slowly away and head back to shore
  • If you're in a boat move carefully and slowly around the bays
  • If you on the water and see the animal don't approach it and give it lots of space

Help us spread the word.  Print out a flyer or public notice and post these up and around your local community.

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