Three Year study of Kaikōura Canyon Launched

Whale Watch Kaikoura in conjunction with the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust has launched a three year project to study the submarine canyon of Kaikōura.

Whale Watch Kaikoura (WWK) General Manager Kauahi Ngapora said it was crucially important to better understand the distribution and habitat use of the Sperm Whales at Kaikoura.

“The submarine canyon of Kaikōura, is an enormously productive deep-sea habitat, and serves as an important feeding ground for male sperm whales which are found here year-round.

“A better understanding of the ecology of sperm whales at Kaikōura will help us in the protection of this unique marine ecosystem and the population of sperm whales it supports. Sperm whales have become an iconic symbol of Kaikōura. A healthy future for the sperm whales is an interest shared by Whale Watch and the broader community of Kaikōura.”

Mr Ngapora said while it was likely the high abundance of whales at Kaikōura reflected the exceptional productivity of the Kaikōura canyon, very little was known about what drives its productivity and the factors influencing the distribution of sperm whales.

“Understanding the drivers sustaining the unique ecosystem of the Kaikōura Canyon is particularly important to WWK. Although submarine canyons are known to be hotspots for cetacean diversity, WWK has a limited understanding of what underpins this relationship, and has no direct evidence of what sustains the high energy requirements of sperm whales at Kaikōura. Without this information it is not possible to construct a framework for their protection.

The New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust have supported non-invasive research on sperm whales at Kaikōura since 1990, and have pioneered several new approaches to studying these whales.

The trust was founded by Otago University Professors Steve Dawson and Elisabeth Slooten, well known pioneers of whale and dolphin research in New Zealand. The other trustees are marine biologist Dr William Rayment and accountant and company director Lindsay McLachlan. The project will be led by Dr Rayment and two graduate students, Marta Guerra and Tamlyn Somerford.

Professor Dawson said that nowhere in the Southern Hemisphere are sperm whales found so routinely close to shore as they are at Kaikōura.

“The project aims to assess why the Kaikoura canyon is such a magnet for sperm whales.

“The project focuses on investigating the diet of whales in different seasons, and on understanding what oceanographic processes drive changes in the whales’ distribution.

He said the research will also produce an updated estimate of population size, and assess population trend, and will shed light on why the Kaikoura canyon may be the region’s greatest natural asset.

“The only physical samples taken from the whales are small pieces of sloughed skin which we find at the surface after a whale dives.

“Each whale has a unique combination of nicks and notches on their flukes, so by photographing their flukes we can identify each individual. We’ve known some individual whales for over 20 years.

He said the Kaikōura submarine canyon is an extremely productive habitat, and a feeding hotspot for sperm whales.

“Remarkably for such a unique and accessible ecosystem, we still know very little about why the canyon is so productive or how it supports the diet of these deep-diving predators. This project combines oceanographic measurements of temperature, salinity and phytoplankton productivity – the very base of the food chain –with chemical analyses of tiny pieces of sloughed sperm whale skin, to understand the relationship of sperm whales to their environment and the food web sustaining them.

“The Trust is very keen to support research that will address these questions. The financial support from Whale Watch Kaikōura is crucial for the project to succeed.”

We had some stunning weather over the weekend along with some great sightings on our tours. Not only were we able to see sperm whales but also the rare opportunity of seeing a pod of beaked whales pass by the Kaikōura coastline. Not a common sight at all and one that is very treasured by all when we do.

Over the weekend we also had a visit from a couple of the crew from Emirates Team New Zealand with the America’s Cup. It was great to have the opportunity to see the cup up close. Check out this video to see how the afternoon went.

The Huttons Shearwater (Tītī) are special to us in Kaikōura. Their habitat sustained considerable loss during the Nov 2016 earthquake. Please take the time to vote for them as Bird of the Year and this status will help secure the much needed funding for more research so we can plan for their future.

REGULAR, SCHEDULED CLOSURES OF STATE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH OF KAIKOURA

The highway will be open during daylight hours on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (perfect for a long weekend getaway) from 7AM to 7PM.

The highway will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for repairs to take place. 

The closure schedule is expected to remain in place until December 2017.

There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Please be aware that this week is a full closure week - Monday 16 to Friday 20 October. The road will reopen to the public midday on Friday 20 October for Labour weekend travellers. Another full week closure is scheduled for Monday 6 to Friday 10 November. 

Something worth celebrating...

Restoration work on the Kaikoura marina begun 10 months ago, and over the weekend we celebrated being able to now use berth 3 & 4. We have been using our trailer unit & the public jetty for some time now so to be able to pull up into our berths is quite an exciting feat. We still have a wee way to go but this is a HUGE step closer to being fully operational. We are very thankful for the amazing work the harbour repair crew are doing in what are at times trying conditions. We are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! We cannot thank the tireless effort that the workers have put in to get us to this stage especially in what has been trying conditions at times.

More great news…

We thank you all for your patience over the last 11 months with the changing tour times with having work in line with the tides but with being able to now use berth 3 & 4 it means that we are now back running on our original fixed tour timetable. 0715, 1000, 1245 & 1530 (Nov-Mar)

KAIKOURA BUSINESS UPDATE

Kaikōura is open for business. For latest updates on accommodation, restaurant and retail information please contact the team at the Kaikōura I-Site who will be able to help you find what suits your needs during your stay in Kaikōura. 

TRANSPORT UPDATE

Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch, as well as Kiwi Experience now having the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers.

Progress on the work being done on roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on this dedicated KAIKOURA EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE page provided by the team at NZTA. This page is updated weekly on Friday. Work is also starting to take place on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

11 months on and we are starting to see some real progress – the teams out on the road, rail and the marina are all doing such an amazing job for which we are so thankful. And, we cannot thank you all enough for your continual support.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura