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.”

Kaikōura’s Summer weather has been a treat this past week, making for some epic sea conditions and amazing clear sightings of marine life out on the water.

It seems like Tiaki and Tutu, two of our favourite whales to see out in the Canyon, have been getting reacquainted since they’ve reunited, as this marks the second week in a row that we’ve seen catching a breather up on the surface and diving down to feed together. Looks like they missed each other as much as we missed them whilst they were away!

Other semi-residential Sperm Whales we saw this week included Mati Mati and Aoraki as well as many transient Sperm Whales who are constantly drawn to Kaikōura due to the abundance of food on offer. As with the majority of our tours, we sighted NZ Fur Seals, Hectors Dolphins, Dusky Dolphins and a variety of seabirds including the Great Wandering Albatross.

Who else is planning to kick start their Summer with a whale watching tour? Bring your family and friends along too and make it an adventure! Buy a whale watching gift voucher or, better yet, check out our Marine Combo deal! Get above, on and below the water with a scenic flight, whale watching boat trip and swim with the dolphins! The ultimate gift this Christmas and one of the best ways to make some lasting Summer memories.

Don’t forget, State Highway 1 North is re-opening this Friday afternoon. And yes, the world famous Nins Bin caravan will be ready to welcome you back! So if you’re making your way along the Coast, stop to enjoy the warm weather, soak up the scenes and take in this incredible new landscape that Kaikōura is quickly becoming known for. They’ll be serving freshly caught crayfish and all that other good stuff including mussels, whitebait and the classic Kiwi fish n’ chips right on the beach – does it get any better?!

ROAD ACCESS UPDATE

There is a possibility of short delays with it being 30km/hour through parts of the route. The full rebuild of the highway will continue in 2018. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. INLAND ROUTE 70 IS OPEN 24/7.

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. 

ORGANISED TRANSPORT OPTIONS FROM CHRISTCHURCH

Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch. Kiwi Experience now have the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers. Intercity Bus also provides a bus service between Christchurch and Kaikoura return.

Progress on the work being done on the roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on the dedicated Kaikoura Earthquake Response page provided by the team at NZTA. This page is updated weekly on Fridays. Work is also underway on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.