Getting to know the whales in your neighbourhood

As we’ve been here nearly 2 weeks, we’re getting to know the whales in our neighbourhood. There are particularly striking ones that we have been recognising and greet like an old friend when they pop up next to us.

The most striking ones are the white calves. About 1 in 20 Aotearoa New Zealand southern right whales are born white with black splotches, and grow into grey coloured adults. The white colour can be seen for miles on a clear day, but it is easy to tell the three that we’ve seen apart. For example, one of the white calves has a black collar, that is a ring of black colouration just below its blow hole. Another white calf has more of a black belt – black colouration further down its back.

White calf with black collar, photo credit UOA Auckland Islands Research Team

Some adult southern right whales have white patches that also make them quite distinctive. This is one we called lightening, as it was jet black except for a white zig zag pattern on its back.

Whale with zig zag colouration on its back, photo credit UOA Auckland Islands Research Team

One of the most distinctive whales we have had in Port Ross is knobbly back, named after the pronounced bumps along its back. This could be a deformity, as the skin on top of the bumps looks healthy, rather than scarred as you might expect if it was the result of ship strike. Knobbly back was sighted on our first day of fieldwork, 1 August, and we were able to get a small skin sample from it on 8 August.

Knobbly back, photo credit UOA Auckland Islands Research Team

As well as helping fund this research, marine conservation organisation Live Ocean has launched a whale sighting campaign around mainland NZ to help add to our knowledge about where these whales go. For more information on the research or how to report a sighting go to


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