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Southern right whales were the target of intensive hunting throughout their range during the 19th century. Hunting was particularly intensive around New Zealand, where the species disappeared for a period of more than 50 years during the 20th century. Fortunately, a small remnant population of right whales survived in the remote sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand. Dr. Scott Baker organized the first winter expedition to the Auckland Islands to collect individual identification photographs and genetic samples to characterize this population and document its recovery.
Bruce Mate: All right whale populations were decimated by whaling early in the whaling history. We tagged whales off South Africa and tracked them to the Antarctic ice edge. Our tags identified areas where the animals could be found year round off South Africa that were previously unknown and tracked some of the whales to the old Pigeon whaling grounds, which were thought to have been whaled to extinction and previously not identified with any specific right whale stock. Follow-up studies conducted by our late collaborator Peter Best showed tagged animals have the same sighting rate as untagged animals, indicating there was no difference in mortality, and observations of their calves showed there were no differences in female reproductive capacity. Many right whales went over the same seamount en route to Antarctica, suggesting that this was either used for navigation or potentially had upwelled productivity that may be used for feeding.
Torres L.G. $, IC, EA, A, F, W, Rayment W, Olavarría C, Thompson DR, Graham B, Baker CS, Patenaude N, Bury SJ, Boren L, Parker G, Carroll EL. 2016. Demography and ecology of southern right whales Eubalaena australis wintering at sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, New Zealand. Polar Biology:1-12. doi:10.1007/s00300-016-1926-x