My Visit to the University of Otago’s Marine Science Department

Yesterday afternoon I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Dr. Will Rayment of the University of Otago’s Marine Science Department. We met Dr. Rayment in his office. He shared with us about his work, answered our questions and showed us some field equipment, ID photos and drone footage.

University of Otago research vessel

Research vessel Polaris II (photo from University of Otago website)

The University of Otago has been conducting some fascinating, long-term research focusing on key New Zealand cetaceans. Some specific species that Dr. Rayment mentioned were the endangered Hector’s Dolphin, the Bottlenose Dolphins of Doubtful Sound and the Southern Right Whales.

Hectors Dolphin

Hector’s Dolphins (photo by Dennis Buurman)

The cetaceans that live off New Zealand’s coasts are similar to some species we have in Canada–but different. In B.C. the Southern Resident Killer Whale population gets most of the media/conservation attention because they are so endangered. In New Zealand it is the Hector’s Dolphin that commonly shows up on google searches and Instagram posts. The Hector’s Dolphin is only found in New Zealand. There are two types: the Hector’s Dolphin of the Southern Island (population estimate 15,000) and the Maui Dolphin of the Northern Island (population estimate 57-75). Both creatures have uniquely rounded dorsal fins. These dolphins are born with perfectly shaped fins on their backs. As they get older these fins become scarred and battered, allowing researchers to identify and keep track of individuals. Dr. Rayment explained that fishing nets are the main danger to these little cetaceans.

Southern Right Whales

Southern Right Whales (image from drone video by the University of Otago’s Marine Science Department, link in text)

I was very interested to learn about Dr. Rayment’s research of Southern Right Whales. Unlike the Right Whales of the northern hemisphere this population is making a comeback (increasing about 8% annually). Right Whales got their name from whalers. Calling them the “right” whale to hunt because they are rich in oil and not too fast. As you can imagine, this species was decimated by the whaling industry (in both hemispheres). We asked Dr. Rayment why the population here is doing so much better than their northern cousins. He said it is likely to do with the lack of shipping traffic in the area. Ship strike incidents are very rare here.  In 2008 he began researching these whales in the Auckland Islands (an uninhabited archipelago 465 km south of the South Island). These islands are a breeding haven for the Southern Right Whales and an ideal place to collect data on the population. If you would like to learn more about Dr. Rayment’s research on Southern Right Whales check out this article: Making Things Right. Also you can click here for a short video of drone footage of Southern Right Whales compiled by the university.

Southern Resident Killer Whale carrying her dead baby. Photo by Taylor Shedd

Southern Resident Killer Whale carrying her dead baby (photo by Taylor Shedd)

As I was browsing whale related news stories this morning, I came across an interesting article about a New Zealand Bottlenose Dolphin displaying a similar grieving behavior to J35 off Vancouver Island this past summer (click here for the full story). It is interesting to learn that other members of the dolphin family have similar grieving rituals. I can’t help but see connections between the cetaceans here with the ones at home.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s