Hauraki Gulf’s special whales

A group of Bryde’s whales have chosen the Hauraki Gulf as a place to live all year round and as somewhere to bring up their calves. This is unusual for a whale species, as most migrate from the tropics to the polar regions each year. We are very lucky to have a population of whales right on Auckland’s doorstep and we need to look after them.

View this fantastic drone video of the Bryde’s whales in the Gulf taken by AUT scientists.

Bryde’s whales are small baleen whales that can often be seen feeding amongst seabirds and dolphins in large ‘boil ups’ of fish in the Hauraki Gulf. The population is considered to be threatened, being listed by the Department of Conservation as “nationally critical”.

The whales used to be hunted, with 19 animals being taken at the whaling station at Whangaparapara, Great Barrier Island during the 1960s. However, Bryde’s whales do not produce much oil so they were not targeted in the same way that humpback whales were.

Old Whangaparapara Whaling Station
19 Bryde’s whales were taken at the Whangaparapara whaling station on Great Barrier Island during the 1960s. The remains of the old whaling station, shown here, can still be seen in the harbour.

The biggest risk the whales now face is being hit by the large ships that transit the Gulf to enter the Port of Auckland. The shipping lanes cut right across the areas where the whales spend much of their time, and if they are hit by the large hulls travelling at high speed, the whales have little chance of surviving. A total of 18 whales are known to have died from ship strike in the Hauraki Gulf since 1996.

Container ship leaving the Port of Auckland
Large ships are a risk to whales if they travel at fast speeds transiting through the Hauraki Gulf. If the ships slow down to 10 knots or less that risk is significantly reduced.

Responding to this issue, in 2013, Ports of Auckland issued a voluntary protocol that advised ships to reduce speed, where possible, when transiting through the Gulf. At speeds of 10 knots or less there is a much higher chance that the whales will survive a collision. Since the release of the protocol, speeds have been reducing and are now on average less than 11 knots. There has only been one recorded whale death from ship strike, on 12 September 2014, since the protocol was put in place.

Bryde's whale Transit Protocol page 1 Bryde's whale Transit Protocol page 2

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