Social media helps scientists monitor hardly ever sighted whales

Images shared by members of the general public, through Fb and nature-watching community iNaturalist, helped scientists assess how the species is faring across the Aotearoa New Zealand mainland.

Carried out in cooperation with the Division of Conservation and revealed within the journal Ocean & Coastal Administration, the research reveals that southern proper whales are slower than anticipated at re-establishing a habitat in mainland waters.

The analysis was led by Annabelle Cranswick, a masters pupil within the School of Science at Waipapa Taumata Rau, College of Auckland. Sightings of the whale rose between 2003 and 2010, however the improve wasn’t sustained over the previous decade, Cranswick discovered. That is regardless of some high-profile incidents resembling the looks of Matariki, the southern proper whale which captured the nation’s coronary heart whereas lingering in Wellington Harbour in 2018.

One risk is that the species’ data of mainland wintering grounds was misplaced when numbers crashed due to whaling.

“Images provided on social media and by citizen scientists are proving so essential for us to watch populations of those recovering whales,” says Cranswick. “We are able to assess that sure, this can be a southern proper whale, and uncover how lengthy a whale stayed in a selected space.

“Even a distant picture, displaying simply a part of a whale, will be useful,” says Cranswick. “We are able to decide a southern proper from simply the white patches referred to as callosities on the pinnacle, their flat again which lacks a dorsal fin, and even their giant paddle-shaped pectoral fins.”

Info on inhabitants demographics aids conservation efforts. Fb and iNaturalist images supplemented a Division of Conservation — Te Papa Atawhai database that largely depends on citizen scientists’ whale sightings. Scientists centered on 116 sightings over 11 years (2011-2021) within the waters round mainland New Zealand, together with the North (Te Ika a Māui), South (Te Waipounamu), and Stewart (Rakiura) islands.

“We went by way of ten years of social media information to extract these sighting reviews,” says Hannah Hendriks, a marine biologist with the Division of Conservation. “There are only a few whale researchers and rangers scattered throughout the nation, so we depend on the general public to be our eyes and ears.”

Bobby Phuong, a postie in Christchurch who’s an enthusiastic newbie wildlife photographer, shot one of many pictures to function within the research. He drove for practically an hour to see a whale and calf at Sumner in August final yr, sharing his images through Fb.

“They had been exceptional to witness and I am glad my images have helped indirectly,” he says.

In Gisborne, Wainui Seaside resident Ian Ruru captured pictures of a southern proper whale frolicking within the waves, metres away from surfers, in September 2018. “She sat immediately in entrance of our dwelling for eight hours that day… I suppose she wished her story to be informed… Paikea we referred to as her,” says Ruru.

A notice to would-be citizen-scientists: Photographers should keep 50m from grownup whales and 200m from whales with calves.

Southern proper whales had been hunted to close extinction, with international numbers falling to as little as 500. By 2009, an estimated 2,200 of the whales had been in New Zealand waters, transferring between the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands (Maungahuka) and Campbell Island (Motu Ihupuku), and sometimes being discovered round mainland New Zealand together with Stewart Island (Rakiura). Numbers are slowly recovering.

“Social media offered detailed info from areas with plenty of individuals and many cameras,” says Dr Emma Carroll, of Waipapa Taumata Rau, College of Auckland, who’s a co-author of the research.

“The place there are fewer individuals, just like the west coast of Te Waipounamu (the South Island), info from the general public and Division of Conservation rangers recorded within the nationwide database was extra essential.”

As a result of southern proper whales come near shore, many images had been from clifftops and even the seaside. Southern proper whales stay such a rarity across the New Zealand mainland that it is attainable there shall be solely a single sighting in a yr.

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