New Zealand and Australian scientists are about to hunt some of the biggest predators in the icy Southern Ocean – humpback and blue whales.
The NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) vessel Tangaroa leaves Wellington on Thursday 29 January for Terra Nova Bay in Antarctica.
This is the starting point of a six-week research initiative in the Southern Ocean looking at areas of importance to humpbacks, blue whales and Antarctic toothfish.
The 21 scientists from NIWA, Antarctica New Zealand and the Australian Antarctic Division will first head to the Balleny Islands, about 2000km south of New Zealand, to conduct the humpback whale research before heading east in search of blue whales.
“This trip is particularly exciting because of the challenges of working in the harsh environment of the Southern Ocean,” said Voyage Leader and NIWA Principal Scientist Dr Richard O’Driscoll in a NIWA media release.
“The Balleny Islands are known as a feeding hotspot for humpbacks but little is known about what they eat.”
“Commercial whaling almost wiped out the blue whales, however, there are signs they are now starting to come back,” he explains. “Finding blue whales is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, but we have a secret – we’re going to listen for them.”
The scientists will drop ‘sonobuoys’ in the water which will allow them to listen for the whales’ songs and pinpoint where the whale ‘hotspots’ are.
The expedition has been covered in national and global media. Examples include:
Stuff.co.nz: Scientists head for Antarctica on whale research journey
3News: Whales targeted in Tangaroa voyage
TVNZ: Scientists depart for Antarctica on whale research voyage
Radio New Zealand: Scientists off on whale trail
3News: NIWA hopes to discover Southern Ocean secrets
GlobalPost: Scientists to track blue whales using sonobuoys in Antarctica