Rare blue whales near New Zealand


This video is called BBC Planet Earth (Blue whale).

From the New Zealand Herald:

Giants of the sea: Blue whales spotted in NZ

11:51 AM Monday Feb 3, 2014

Rare blue whales have been spotted off the coast of the North Island by NIWA scientists.

The whales, the world’s largest animal, remain one of the planet’s most elusive creatures.

They were intensively hunted in the Southern Hemisphere during the whaling era, dramatically reducing their numbers.

The creatures were spotted by scientists on a research expedition in the South Taranaki Bight led by NIWA marine ecologist Dr Leigh Torres.

The group is aiming to collect data to increase understanding of the blue whale population in the region. The team has observed nearly 50 blue whales in the past week.

“It is very exciting to see these whales and start the process of collecting important data on this undescribed population and poorly understood foraging habitat,” Dr Torres said.

“In addition to finding the whales, we were able to detect their prey visually on the surface and at-depth using hydro-acoustics.”

Dr Torres last year published a scientific paper that discussed the possibility of a blue whale foraging ground in the Bight.

Her research showed the presence of blue whales in the area was greater than expected. An increase in reported sightings was also linked to a prominent upwelling system that generates large clouds of plankton – perfect for blue whales to feed on.

It was previously thought the whales were only travelling through New Zealand waters while migrating.

Blue whales need to eat vast amounts of plankton to support their energy demands. But there are just four confirmed blue whale foraging grounds in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctic waters,” Dr Torres said.

Pygmy blue whales migrating from Perth to Indonesia: here.

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Dolphin fossil discovery in New Zealand


This video is called Friday Fossil Mystery – Ep.2 – Dolphin Petrosal.

From the University of Otago in New Zealand:

New dolphin fossil found in NZ

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A newly recognised fossil dolphin from New Zealand, dubbed Papahu taitapu, is the first of its kind ever found and may be a close relation to the ancestors of modern dolphins and toothed whales, according to University of Otago researchers.

Papahu lived 19–22 million years ago, and is one of the few dolphins to be reported globally dating to the start of the Miocene epoch. Judging from the size of its skull, Papahu was about two metres long, roughly the size of a common dolphin.

Dr Gabriel Aguirre and Professor Ewan Fordyce, from the University’s Department of Geology describe and interpret Papahu in the latest issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. This work was part of Dr Aguirre’s PhD research.

Dr Aguirre says that like most living dolphins, Papahu had many simple conical teeth, but its head was probably a bit wider, and not as high-domed. It lived at a time of global warmth, in shallow seas around Zealandia – or proto-New Zealand – along with ancient penguins and baleen whales.

The skull, one jaw, and a few other parts of Papahu taitapu were found in marine sedimentary rocks in the Cape Farewell region of northern South Island. The researchers used the Māori name ‘taitapu’ to honour this region, and ‘Papahu’ is a Māori name for dolphin. Only a single specimen has been found so far and the fossil is housed in the University’s Geology Museum.

“Our study of structures of the skull and earbone suggest that Papahu could make and use high frequency sound to navigate and detect prey in murky water. They probably also used sound to communicate with each other,” says Dr Aguirre.

Features of the Papahu skull can be used to analyse relationships with other dolphins and toothed whales. That work shows that the skull is distinct from all previously-reported fossils, which is why the dolphin can be formally named as a new form, he says.

“When we compared Papahu with both modern and fossil dolphins we found that it belongs in a diverse and structurally variable group of ancient dolphins that evolved and spread world-wide 19–35 million years ago. All of those ancient dolphins including Papahu and others, such as shark-toothed dolphins, are now extinct,” says Professor Fordyce.

“They have been replaced by the ‘modern’ dolphins and toothed whales, which diversified within the last 19 million years,” he says.

It is not clear, however, exactly why Papahu and other ancient dolphins went extinct, he added.

See also here.

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Tropical butterflies to botanical garden


This video says about itself:

Short mini film about the Otago museum tropical butterfly house, Dunedin, New Zealand.

The botanical garden of Leiden in the Netherlands has won a prize.

This makes it possible for them to bring tropical butterflies to their Victoria amazonica hothouse.

The butterflies will start flying there in the spring of 2014.

New Zealand South Island kokako still alive?


This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Kōkako at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre

21 Nov 2012

This is some footage I took of Kahurangi, a hand-reared [North Island] kōkako living at the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre in New Zealand. I had the privilege of hanging out with her in her enclosure – she’s too tame and dependent on humans to fly free. It gave me an incredible opportunity to get close to a bird most New Zealanders will never even hear, let alone see.

Before Europeans arrived, kōkako were very common across New Zealand. Each main island had a distinct species. Thanks to predation by introduced mammals, the South Island kōkako is now extinct and the North Island kōkako survives in just a handful of forests. The evening after I met Kahurangi, I sat in my garden and thought how much richer New Zealand would be if it was kōkako, not blackbirds, heralding the dusk!

From Wildlife Extra:

The thought to be extinct kokako may be alive

Sightings accepted of bird native to New Zealand’s South Island

November 2013: A South Island bird that was thought to be extinct may actually still be alive, according to Forest & Bird, New Zealand’s largest independent conservation organisation, which is dedicated to monitoring rare and endangered birds.

The South Island kokako was declared extinct in 2007 but earlier this month the Ornithological Society decided to change the bird’s listing from ‘extinct’ to ‘data deficient’ on the New Zealand Threat Classification System. That decision can after the society accepted a sighting of the bird near Reefton, which was made in 2007. The last accepted sighting was made in 1967.

Ten further sightings of the South Island kokako between 1990 and 2008 were found to be ‘probable’ or ‘possible’.

Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said that, while it was uncertain as to whether the bird was alive, this was the best sign yet.

“New Zealand is thought to have lost over 50 bird species. If just one of those extinctions turns out not to have happened, it would be incredibly good news,” he said.

Hackwell maintained that if the South Island kokako was still alive it would “just be hanging on”. More pest control work in the South Islands was needed than ever before because of the reclassification, he said.

The North Island kokako, a different species, is still considered ‘endangered’.

South Island Kokako: The search for the Grey Ghost: here.

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Penguin photographer in New Zealand


This video (in English, after a short introduction in German) says about itself:

Tui De Roy – A Wild Spirit

9 Dec 2012

Internationally acclaimed New Zealand wildlife photographer talks about her life.

From the Otago Daily Times in New Zealand:

A dedicated follower of penguins

By Rebecca Fox on Wed, 25 Sep 2013

Tui De Roy has travelled to the ends of the Earth in search of the perfect wildlife photograph.

Whether photographing the rarely seen northern rockhopper penguin on a South Atlantic island or the emperor penguin in the Antarctic, the remoter the better, for Ms De Roy.

During the production of her latest book, Penguins Their World, Their Ways, co-authored with Mark Jones and Julie Cornthwaite, she made an exception, visiting Otago Peninsula to photograph the yellow-eyed penguin.

Ms De Roy (59) and her co-authors were in Dunedin this week to talk to the Dunedin Photographic Society.

The book was a sister to an earlier one on albatrosses and together marked the end of a 15-year project for the trio.

It was during the work for the latest book that she fell in love – with emperor penguins.

She travelled to the Antarctic with the Australian Antarctic programme and was able to spend three days photographing the penguins.

”It’s very much the end of the earth. I was very lucky.

”The space, the immensity, the soft light and they were such stately birds. It was very other-worldly.”

Her dream was to spend one year in [the] Antarctic photographing the penguins‘ life for another book.

Such an endeavour was not that outrageous for the woman who has been photographing wildlife in remote places for many decades – including the Galapagos Islands, where she used to live – and who has produced six books in the past eight years.

Another highlight was photographing the ”outrageous” looking northern rockhopper penguins, as their remote location meant they were not often seen by people.

In contrast, she also spent four weeks camping in the Falkland Islands among four different species of penguins.

Her work required much time and the ability to be able to immerse herself in the environment, she said.

With the book out, she planned to take some time out before planning her next project.

One of the most “disastrous breeding seasons” in recent years has hit endangered yellow-eyed penguin colonies along Otago’s coast: here.

New Zealand birds discovery


This video from New Zealand is called Bird of the year, Vote Yellowhead / Mohu! Ruth Dyson.

From Fuseworks Ltd. today:

Fifth endemic NZ songbird family identified

New Zealand’s unique biodiversity has been strengthened with the identification of a new endemic songbird family – the family Mohouidae – which includes the endangered Yellowhead, the Whitehead and the Brown Creeper.

This brings the number of endemic songbird (Passeriformes) families to five and increases the number of endemic vertebrate families from 13 to 14 (11 bird, 1 frog, 1 bat, 1 tuatara).

It’s an achievement that Massey University postdoctoral fellows Dr Luis Ortiz-Catedral and Dr Michael Anderson say has international significance, as the taxonomy of birds, especially Australasian songbirds, is the subject of intense research. By conducting DNA sequencing of three species – two of them for the first time – the testing confirmed what had been suspected since the 1950s.

Mohoua were clumped in the same genus for some time,” says Dr Ortiz-Catedral. “But this was done without more stringent evidence. By obtaining DNA samples from all three species of these birds, we were able to add to the body of knowledge about New Zealand’s unique biodiversity.”

The Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla) or Pōpokotea is only found in native and exotic forests in the North Island, while the Yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala) or Mōhua and the Brown Creeper (Mohoua novaseelandiae) or Pīpipi are only found in the South and Stewart Islands. Dr Anderson says despite the differences in location, the Whiteheads and Yellowheads are more closely related to each other than the Brown Creepers.

The project to identify New Zealand’s fifth endemic songbird family was a global collaboration between New Zealand, Australian and United States-based scientists, and came about while Dr Anderson was conducting comparative analyses on New Zealand cuckoos.

“We know very little about the Long-tailed Cuckoo, which parasitises these three species, laying its eggs in their nests,” he says. “This research will help us to understand the evolutionary relationship between this brood parasite and its host species.”

Notoriously difficult to obtain samples from, the team recruited several New Zealand-based scientists to obtain a variety of samples from a number of species while in the field to get a robust database from which to draw their evidence.

“It would be inaccurate to only sample these three,” says Dr Ortiz-Catedral. “We needed to find out how they would be placed when compared to other species from New Zealand and the broader Australasian region. When more species were added to the analysis, these three really came into their own.”

Professor Mark Hauber, a New Zealander now based at Hunter College of City University of New York became the conduit for the DNA sequencing, analysed by lead researcher Zachary Aidala in New York. Previously working in Auckland (and Dr Anderson’s and Dr Ortiz-Catedral’s PhD co-advisor) Dr Hauber is a leading researcher in animal behaviour and conservation ecology in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College.

As one of the last land masses to be settled by humans, New Zealand occupies a unique place in the world as a living conservation laboratory providing valuable training for scientists saving endangered species. Dr Ortiz-Catedral says the world-class methods developed here involving the analysis of complex data sets is one of New Zealand’s finest unsung export stories.

Originally from Mexico, Dr Ortiz-Catedral came to New Zealand to study New Zealand’s conservation methods and went on to complete his PhD on refining translocation practices for New Zealand native parakeets. His expertise is now in demand globally and he recently came back from the Galapagos Islands working on a project to save the critically endangered Floreana Mockingbird (known as Darwin’s muse).

Auckland Museum taxonomist Dr Brian Gill investigated what name could be applied to the new family and found that “Mohouidae” was available from its published usage in 1946 by Gregory Mathews.

Dr Anderson says the international collaboration can help unravel how far back in time these native birds have diverged from their ancestors and how fast they have evolved into different species. Data from this project will help to inform comparative studies both locally and internationally.

“It’s an exciting discovery that further enhances the level of uniqueness of New Zealand’s biodiversity by increasing our high levels of endemism,” says Dr Ortiz-Catedral. “It’s much easier to prevent biodiversity loss by maximising conservation efforts early.”

The discovery was published in the prestigious Journal of Ornithology.

From Massey University in New Zealand:

The five endemic songbird families in New Zealand are:

Mohouidae – Yellowhead, Whitehead and Brown Creeper
Notiomystidae – the Hihi or Stitchbird
Callaeidae – Huia (extinct) and North and South Island Saddleback and North and South Island Kokako
Acanthisittidae – Bush Wren (extinct) and Rifleman and Rock Wren
Turnagridae – North and South Island Piopio (extinct)