Hugh Bollinger
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The 'right' whale

In the early 19th century, the "right" whale was the one that didn't run from whaling boats and floated to the surface when harpooned. Records indicate 30,000 of these huge mammals once migrated from the Antarctic to calving grounds along New Zealand coastal coves annually. Hunting of right whales virtually eliminated the species from the southern oceans by the 1840s, as it did to the world's other two subspecies. [caption id="attachment_5064" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Southern right whale source: file photo"][/caption] However, there is good news -- to what might have been another story of biodiversity loss --in that the docile right whales somehow managed to survive the slaughter of the whaling days. Marine Ecology Progress Series has announced that a tiny colony of Southern right whales from two remote sub-Antarctic islands have begun restoring themselves to their ancient haunts around New Zealand. This is especially exciting since the whale mums once taught their calves the proper direction from their New Zealand calving grounds to the summer waters off Antarctica and back. It was thought that with over 100 years of absence -- since elimination of the NZ populations -- location "memory" would have been lost. It seems the few surviving gentle giants remembered their past homelands and have now found their way back. As the report's author, Scott Baker of Oregon State University, states: "These are probably just the first pioneers. The protected bays of New Zealand are excellent breeding grounds, and I suspect that we may soon see a pulse of new whales following the pioneers, to colonize their former habitat." New Zealand may continue representing an eco-tourism destination as the populations of these majestic mammals recover. Peacefully kayaking among the creatures and snapping photos is a far more sustainable maritime pursuit than the one represented by old boats gathering dust in a whaling museum. WHB
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