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.”

***WHALE WATCH KAIKOURA UPDATE***

Over the last week we have had around 3 to 4 sperm whales feeding close inshore which has made for some fantastic sightings. There has also been a humpback whale visiting Kaikōura over the last couple of weeks which has been making itself known on our tours also much to our crew and customers delight. Dolphins, NZ fur seals and marine birds have also regular viewings on our tours.

For guests who are planning on joining us over the next week please note NZTA have issued a notice to all travellers that State Highway 1 Coastal Route south from Kaikōura to Christchurch is closed to all traffic from 8pm on Sunday 26 March to 7am on Tuesday 4 April. This is to allow remedial work to take place and to make the coastal route more resilient during times of unfavourable weather. Please use Inland Route 70 which is open 24/7 during this time, please also allow extra time in your travel plans when using this alternative route.

Progress is being made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina and we continue to switch between using a berth and our modified trailer unit for launching our vessel Tohorā, when and where possible we are also making use of the public jetty that we have modified, (this is a first for us but when presented with challenges we have embraced them post-earthquake and used our ingenuity) this is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. It is anticipated that the Kaikōura Marina will be fully operational by the middle of this year.

Currently our available tour times are based around the tide times on the day and may differ from the tour times originally advertised, please bear with us as we continue to work toward being fully operational again. For an update on the tour times available please contact our Customer Service team directly either by email on res@whalewatch.co.nz or phone +64 3 319 6767 or free phone 0800 655 121 (within NZ) and they will be able to help you with your inquiry.  Please note we are operating at a reduced capacity in the interim with up to 3 tours available per day, please contact our team prior to arriving in Kaikōura to secure a space on one of our tours and to save disappointment.

Kaikōura 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:

All subject to weather conditions, slips, repair work and seismic activity. Updates available from the NZTA WEBSITE.

Intercity & Hasslefree Tours 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.

Please consider taking the time to visit Kaikōura, your support is most welcome.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.