How will Kaikoura's whales react to the earthquake?

Animal experts and Kaikoura tourism operators are keen to find out how Monday's 7.8 magnitude earthquake affected the resident whale population.

How will Kaikoura's whales react to Monday's massive earthquake? Source: Breakfast

Whale watching is a major industry along the Kaikoura coast, and the marine environment also provides opportunities for scientists to study marine life.

University of Otago zoologist Professor Liz Slooten told Breakfast this morning that during a recent weekend in Kaikoura there were not many whales around, but they were expected to return to the area shortly.

Then, however, the earthquake hit.

"The earthquakes would have created a lot of very loud noise under water, and certainly sperm whales, which are the main whales that the whale watchers go out to see, are known for not appreciating loud noises," Professor Slooten said.

She couldn't say for sure how the whales would have reacted, but in instances of explosions or active sonar interfering with the mammals, they can strand or rise to the surface too quickly to get away from the disturbance.

It was also possible that along with seals, who lost their breeding spot at Ohau Point in a landslide, the whale population would set up a new breeding area elsewhere on the coast.

While that would be good for them, it would devastate the local tourism industry. 

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Professor Slooten said helicopters and aircraft would be needed to check on the whales in the coming weeks before any definitive outcome was discovered.