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Antarctic Blue Whale photo-identification project launches 2013

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Antarctica New Zealand is proud to be a the founding partner of the Antarctic Blue Whale Project, a flagship collaborative research project bringing together shipping, logistics and scientific resources to better understand blue whale population health and dynamics over the last 50 years. During the industrial whaling era up to a third of a million blue whales were killed pushing them close to extinction. Part of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership (SORP), the project also focusses on developing non-lethal research methods so blue whales can be studied without loss or harm.

"Antarctica New Zealand is actively collaborating with our Australian colleagues to encourage all ships working in the Ross Sea Region and Southern Ocean to the south of New Zealand to participate in this project" explains Lou Sanson, CEO of Antarctica New Zealand. "One of the largest concentrations of Blue Whales are between Balleny Island and the Ross Sea, an area regularly traversed by shipping traffic. The New Zealand ship the 'Amaltal Explorer' will play a key role this summer in enabling scientists to undertake non-invasive sample collection during its voyage south"

Starting in 2013, the Antarctic Blue Whale Project will run for at least three years. Encounters with blue whales by ships are rare but when they do are widely photographed by passengers and crew. The Project relies on them sharing their photographs with the research group when they return to port. With the addition of date, time and approximate location or GPS coordinates any photographs are invaluable and can be emailed to when the connections allow - no specialist training required! As the project's main area of interest is latitude 60 degrees and further south, to the ice edge, it is thought that tourist and fishing vessels in and around the Ross Sea will be the main contributors of imagery due to the time spent cruising in the area.

The project team are also developing an online IWC Photo-Identification catalogue so contributors can upload their images through the web. The researchers are then able to analyse the pictures by matching colour patterns to identify individual whales. This work will play a vital role in the estimation of the abundance of blue whales and mark-recapture statistics with no harm done to the whale(s).

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