Humpback whale numbers on the rise

The latest results from an annual Cook Strait whale survey suggests the humpback whale population is rising.

The Cook Strait Whale Project, carried out by the Department of Conservation, saw 92 humpback sightings this year.

That's up from the average of 66 over the past six years, and is the second highest next to 106 humpback sightings in 2012.

The project assesses the recovery humpback whales since the end of commercial whaling in New Zealand in 1964. The four-week survey is timed for the whales' annual migration from Antarctic waters to their breeding grounds in the South Pacific.

The species' recovery is assessed by comparing the numbers seen in the survey with whaling station humpback records from the 1950s and early 1960s.

"The findings to date indicate the New Zealand humpback population is increasing - but slowly," says Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

"The team also collected 41 skin samples using a biopsy dart tool and took 38 photos of individual whales. The skin samples will assist in assessing the humpback population size and links with humpbacks seen elsewhere in the South Pacific as well as providing genetic information.

Humpback whale breaching.

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