A new population of at least 700 blue whales has been found living between the North and South Islands of New Zealand.

The gigantic marine mammals are genetically distinct from whales found in the neighbouring Pacific and Antarctic Oceans, suggesting they are a separate group that lives permanently in the region.

While they are not as large as their Antarctic cousins, the New Zealand population can still reach lengths of around 22 metres.

 

Their discovery is being hailed as significant because the whales’ home in the South Taranaki Bight is also the setting for several oil and gas rigs and is set to be targeted by seafloor mining operations.

Though blue whales have long been listed as a migrant species in the region, Dr Leigh Torres of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University was the first to suggest it might be home to a resident population. 

This was confirmed when she began conducting expeditions in the South Taranaki Bight to look for signs that it was a blue whale hotspot.

On a 10-day research expedition conducted in 2014, Dr Torres and her colleagues identified 50 blue whales, but they needed to ascertain whether these individuals were migrating from nearby waters or a permanent fixture.

 

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