8 Nov 2018

Scientists find out Matariki whale's age and gender

6:29 pm on 8 November 2018

The age and gender of the whale which charmed Wellingtonians in July has been confirmed.

The Southern Right Whale in Wellington Harbour

The Southern Right Whale in Wellington Harbour Photo: Maritime NZ/Mark Dittmer

Matariki, named lovingly after its presence in the harbour delayed the council's Matariki fireworks display, was a juvenile male.

Emma Carroll from Auckland University said she was able to extract DNA from a small skin sample to confirm his gender and age-range.

Dr Carroll said she and other scientists were now investigating if Matariki or any of his family have been seen before.

"The University of Auckland and the Department of Conservation have a DNA catalogue of about 750 southern right whales that have been sampled around New Zealand," she said.

"So we're going to compare Matariki's DNA profile to the profiles found in the catalogue to see if Matariki or his whānau have been seen around New Zealand before."

Southern right whales are species which has rebounded after their numbers fell to as little as 100 during the Whaling years.

By 2009, work led by the University of Auckland showed that the population numbered about 2000 whales.

However, recovery is slow because right whales are traditionalists and the whales seem to follow their mother's preferred migratory destinations, shown to them in their first year of life.

"It takes a bit of a rogue like Matariki to decide to explore beyond the Auckland Islands," she said.

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