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DOC concerned about whale and vessels during fireworks in Harbour

Press Release – Department of Conservation
From Ian Angus, Marine Species Threats Manager
We appreciate there’s a keen public interest in the welfare of the southern right whale spotted in Wellington Harbour this week.

Concerns sparked that this whale would be negatively impacted by the Matariki fireworks display Wellington City Council have planned for Saturday. We consulted with experts from DOC and the University of Auckland to determine what the risks were, their significance, and if they were possible to mitigate.

Our primary concern is increased vessel traffic, including risk of vessel strike and increased underwater noise from vessels. Our experts’ opinion is that the noise of the actual fireworks will be significantly muted underwater and is unlikely to harm the whale.

We made some suggestions to the WCC around whale location, vessel restriction and responsible boating behaviour to minimise the vessel traffic risk. These included monitoring the whale’s whereabouts — if it’s in the northern or eastern portions of the harbour, the display will pose little risk compared to if it were in direct view of the launch barge – limiting number of vessels in main on-water viewing locations if the whale is confirmed to be near; reducing vessel speed and applying extra caution; and maintaining the required legal distances.

Not only is there a risk to the whale from vessels, there is also a risk to smaller vessels, and non-motorised vessels especially, if the whale is breaching which it has been seen to do over the past few days.

The whale was spotted this morning near the InterIslander Ferry Terminal, and there is still no reason to believe that its behaviour is unusual or it’s under any duress. We do want to reiterate that whale watchers need to keep at least 50m away from the whale and no more than three vessels and/or aircraft should be within 300 m of any marine mammal. ‘Vessel’ includes boats and kayaks.

We supplied this advice to Wellington City Council today for them to take into consideration when making their decision.

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