Tohor? N? Aotearoa - New Zealand Southern Right Whale Auckland Islands Expedition Report, with Genotype Matching to 1995-2009 Catalogue
Emma L. Carroll, Debbie Steel, Rochelle Constantine, Virginia Andrews-Goff, C. Scott Baker, Ros Cole, Leena Riekkola, Aimee Van Der Reiss, Esther Stuck, Alexandre N. Zerbini, Robert Harcourt, Carlos Olavarr?a, Leigh Torres and Simon Childerhouse
In August 2020, an 18 day expedition to the Auckland Islands Maungahuka in the New Zealand sub-Antarctic aboard the yacht Evohe undertook the first of two field seasons to investigate the recovery and foraging ecology of Tohorā nō Aotearoa - New Zealand southern right whales (SRW, Eubalaena australis). This is the continuation of genetic monitoring work on Aotearoa New Zealand SRW initiated by the University of Auckland in 1995 that covered the austral winters of 1995-1998 and 2006-2009. The eight-person research team collected 220 skin biopsy samples, 21 of which are linked to individual whales with photogrammetry measurements (i.e., length, width), deployed six satellite tags, and undertook drone surveys in the Port Ross area. The expedition found a relative increase in the proportion of cow-calf pairs in the area compared with previous years. This is likely due to the COVID-19-related delay in our survey, meaning the trip coincided with the previously described peak abundance of cow-calf pairs, and missed the peak abundance of adult whales seen earlier in the season. Regardless, the importance of Port Ross to cow-calf pairs, the demographic class of SRWs most vulnerable to human disturbance, highlights the need for continued conservation and management of the region. Of the 220 skin biopsy samples, 210 provided genotypes that passed quality control and represented 178 unique individual whales. Of
these 179, 21 had been seen previously in the Auckland Islands, 1 in Campbell Island, 1 in mainland New Zealand, and 1 potential match to New South Wales, Australia. There were 16 females recaptured across surveys in the Auckland Islands, two of which were seen as females with calves in all three decadal surveys. This work forms the basis of a planned research programme that includes close kin mark recapture, stable isotope, and satellite tagging to investigate the foraging ecology of NZ SRW.