First whale arrives off island

Thursday June 16, 2016 Written by Published in Local
Spectacular sights like these are reasonably common off Rarotonga during the humpback whale season. 16061526 Spectacular sights like these are reasonably common off Rarotonga during the humpback whale season. 16061526

One HUMPBACK whale sighting has been reported this week, leading to speculation that the whale season could begin in earnest soon.


While details of this sighting could not be confirmed, Cook Islands Whale Research director Nan Daeschler Hauser says the timing of the sighing is “spot-on” and Rarotonga should expect sightings over the next month or two.

The magnificent mammals migrate to Cook Islands waters every year, making the long journey from Antarctica to the warmer waters of Oceania to mate and give birth.

In an email to CI News, Hauser said Rarotonga was known to be a good spot to sight whales as they passed by with their calves.

Occasionally the massive whales can be sighted close to the reef, with Blackrock regarded as a particularly good vantage point. The humpback whale season typically begins in early July and usually ends by mid-to-late October when the last stragglers pass by. However, their arrival and departure times may be changing due to climate change, Hauser says.

“There are possible changes that would be affected by the environment and also human impact. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers we get this year.

“One humpback whale has already passed through the Cook Islands corridor a couple of days ago. We have many eyes out from all the fishermen who are great about reporting what they are seeing on the water!

“The whales come close to the reef while delivering their young to protect them from killer whales and sharks. The males sing their song just off our shores to impress the females enough to want to mate with them.”

During this season, Hauser says, the female humpbacks leave Oceania pregnant to migrate back to Antarctica to feed. They give birth when they return to Oceania the following year.

“The humpback mother and calf only spend the first year of the calf's life together. They separate after this short amount of time. But every species of whale is different. With killer whales, the mother spends her entire life with her offspring.”

This year fewer whales than usual have been sighted off Hawaii, and Hauser says climate change could again be a contributing factor.

“There are questions about whether climate change could be a factor. Perhaps the whales need to stay on their feeding grounds for longer periods of time if there is less food for them.” 

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