ONE News Now has secured incredible footage of a mother right whale, floating on her back and gently cradling her calf on her stomach.
She appears to be calming her baby by stroking it with her pectoral fins.
The footage was taken by drone on a University of Otago expedition to the subantarctic Auckland Islands, and is the first time scientists have used drone footage to measure the size and shape of individual whales.
They managed to film 107 right whales – a third of the southern population breeding at the Auckland Islands this year.
Expedition leader Steve Dawson says the behaviour "is not really something you'd expect" from a fifty-tonne animal.
"It gives you an insight into these animals. It's new really, we haven't seen such tenderness.
"You can anthropomorphise about this, but they're really just having a cuddle."
The expedition was funded by the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute (NZARI).
Expedition director Professor Gary Wilson says it “is a great example of the kind of research NZARI supports".
"Using new technology to learn more about how our southern ecosystems function and how we might use that to understand future changes."