The Kermadec Islands are a remote set of islands about 1000 km northeast of New Zealand between Tonga and New Zealand. The islands are nature and marine reserves, and managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
A whale of a tale
From September to October every year, humpback whales breeding in the South Pacific make their way down to the Antarctic region and make a pit stop at Raoul Island. The whales are seen during their southern migration at Raoul Island, but do not return on their northern migration back to the Pacific. Humpbacks, including all southern hemisphere populations, are in the process of recovering from near extinction during the whaling era of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Oceania humpbacks are recovering at a much slower rate than their east Australian counterparts. This could be due to the greater distance traveled by the Oceania whales between their breeding and feeding grounds than the east Australian whales.
Ongoing work by Rochelle Constantine of the Marine Mammal Ecology Group at the University of Auckland, requires sampling of individual whales (using skin, fluke photographs, and song recordings) in an effort to understand why Oceania whales are taking longer to recover from the effects of whaling than other humpback populations. This expedition will collect data on humpbacks around Raoul Island to continue to learn more about the whale's migration paths and habitat use in the Southern Hemisphere.
Follow Environmental Programme Manager, Bhakti Patel, as she embarks on a once in a lifetime expedition to collect data on these whales, and learn about ship life on the Royal New Zealand Navy's HMNZS Wellington.
All images for this expedition are by Bhakti Patel unless stated.
Kermadecs expedition FAQ
Who is going to the Kermadecs?
Environment Programme Manager, Bhakti, is going to the Kermadec Islands on behalf of marine mammal researcher Dr Rochelle Constantine from the University of Auckland. Bhakti has experience working with Rochelle on marine mammals.
Bhakti will join DOC on the Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Wellington. DOC will carry out biosecurity work to assess the impact of the myrtle rust disease. The New Zealand Defence Force provide transport and logistics support to allow this research to happen in a remote location.
Why am I going to the Kermadecs?
Oceania humpback whales migrate from the South Pacific where they breed, past Raoul Island in the Kermadec Region, to their feeding grounds off Antarctica. These whales carry out this migration every year, but until recently we did not know where they were and where they were going.
Raoul Island is the southernmost place within the whole South Pacific where there are large numbers of whales aggregating- there's just something about Raoul Island.
What am I doing at the Kermadecs?
Data to identify the whales will be taken by collecting slough skin samples for DNA analysis, and photographing the back of the whales flukes which are all unique in shape and pattern. Whale sound and song will be recorded using a hydrophone.
Photos of bottlenose dolphin fins will also be taken to identify individuals.