Whale Survey in Cook Strait

The annual Cook Strait Whale Survey is underway and two journalists taking part have uncovered a whale hunting legacy that goes back a hundred years.

Stuff.co.nz reporters Kirsty Johnston and Hamish Coleman-Ross were on Arapawa island with the survey’s whale spotters, discovering a rich history of whale hunting – and whale saving.

Their writing featured in a two page spread in the Dominon Post, but is also available online with a wealth of impressive videos and photos. You can see it all here.

An excerpt:

Killers to Conservationists

It was a fierce winter’s day when Picton fisherman Joe Perano took a boat into the Cook Strait and killed his first whale. 

Earlier that morning, a man at a hilltop lookout high above the Tory Channel had spotted two humpbacks cruising north along the coast, their tell-tale spouts bursting into the air and spurring the men to action.

Ropes coiled and harpoons ready, Perano and his crew sped through the choppy water, desperate to beat two rival whaleboats also after a kill.

At 60-feet long and weighing 40 tonnes, their prey dwarfed the tiny vessel, but Perano’s men were too quick. As the two other boats fought over the first whale, they darted after the second and thrust a steel harpoon into its side.

In agony, the humpback kicked out and swam off. Again the men gave chase.

When they drew alongside the wounded whale for a second time, Perano threw a bomb lance at it, while a crewman plunged a second harpoon into the bewildered beast’s side.

As the humpback’s blood spread red into the water, the men in the boat cheered wildly.

It was the Perano family’s first kill and the beginning of a whaling legacy.


A century on from that heady first day, another group of whale hunters, including two Perano brothers, are back in a chilly hilltop lookout, eyes keenly scanning the blue water far below.