18 July, 2021

The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) was hunted extensively along the coasts of New Zealand from the beginning of the 19th Century onward, with peak whaling from shore stations in the late 1840’s.  Before the end of the 19th century the NZ population of southern right whales was commercially extinct. Although protected from hunting by international agreement since 1935, right whales in the southern hemisphere were hunted illegally by the former Soviet Union from 1950 to 1970. 

 

In 1979 there were reports of small numbers of southern right whales congregating in the winter months in the sheltered waters of the sub Antarctic Auckland Islands. They were also recorded by metrological staff during this time around sub Antarctic Campbell Island. 

 

Since 1995 there have been a number of winter expeditions to these islands as well as aerial counts/observations. The number of animals present each year is increasing and current estimates suggest that over 200 animals are visiting the Port Ross region in July/August each year. This makes it an extremely important wintering ground for both cows and calves as well as a mating ground. 

 

I have visited the Auckland Islands many many times, but always in the summer months. I had never had the opportunity to visit during the winter because a) we (Heritage Expeditions) never had a ship available at this time of the year (ours were working in the northern hemisphere) and b) the Islands are closed for tourism during the winter months. To see and experience these southern right whales was high on my bucket list, so when the opportunity came to support an International documentary film crew and Auckland University researchers I didn’t hesitate and I wasn’t disappointed 

 

Pictures say a thousand words .. I hope the following photos give some idea of the beauty and privilege of our expedition ….