DeFINitely Hot: Wellington having a Whale of a Time!
I consider myself extremely lucky to live in a country where whales come for a visit on a regular basis. In Auckland, killer whales are frequently passing the city of sails. Just recently, 15 individuals where found by tour operator Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari! What a great encounter! In Germany, at the coast of the Baltic sea, we do get marine mammal visitors once in a while as well, but surely not as frequently as it’s the case in New Zealand. A solitary bottlenose dolphin spent some time in Kiel and with the news about its presence spreading, it got approached by many people that constituted a high-risk concern for both swimmers and the individual.
The presence and whereabouts of the Southern Right whale (Tohora) in Wellington’s harbour is followed with great interest by Kiwis. Footage of close encounters and active surface behaviour went viral on news and social media channels. Even the fireworks scheduled for the celebration of Matariki, a cultural Maori festival, got postponed ensuring it would not disturb the temporary visitor. The greatest disturbance for the animal, however, are approaching boats that do not stick to guidelines to stay away at least 50m, as proposed by the Department of Conservation. I’ve seen pictures of kayakers lurking nearby which may put them at severe risk. Because again, this animal is often highly active. One splash with the fluke and you as a kayaker are in serious trouble! If the individual approaches voluntarily, this is a different story. But most of the time the boats are too close in the first place, so the animal won’t have an active choice whether to approach you or not. I cannot stress enough to refrain from any forcing behaviour when it comes to interactions with marine wildlife!
Further, when you find yourself close to the whale, make sure you are reading the individuals body language. Is it relaxed, or does it seem to be stressed? Do you recognise any tail slaps? If so, chances are good the whale is bothered by your presence and it’s time for you to back off. It is essential that we know what the animal is up to make a profound decision on ‘should I stay, or should I go?’
Southern Right whales are seen as ‘Taonga’, as cultural treasures of Maori, and should be respected as such. It is always advised to respect the locals though...;)
Valuable information on the matter are provided by DoC: