Whale Watching in Wellington Harbour

Photo by Karl Halvorsen

It has been an exciting week for residents and visitors of Wellington. On Tuesday morning, as we all drearily made our way to work, motorist’s moods were lifted when a whale was spotted in Wellington Harbour. From a passenger train, a large whale could be seen diving and breaching in the water. The news of a whale in the harbour soon appeared on social media, followed by local news, as people began filming the whale frolicking about just off the capital’s shoreline.

Within a matter of hours the whale had become a sensation in Wellington. Whales are usually seen in the harbour about once every two years, so naturally Wellingtonians were delighted. The whale was quickly identified as a Southern Right Whale. Approximately 10,000 live in the Southern Ocean but it is rare for one to come so close into the shallow waters surrounding Wellington.

“We sometimes get Orcas down here but not Southern Right Whales”, a friend told me.

Orcas? You mean I’m living in a country guarded by killer whales?! I’d seen the episode where David Attenborough narrates a group of orcas chasing a poor helpless humpback calf. I suddenly felt relief that we had a friendly whale in our backyard instead.

The whale decided to stick around and every day there were more updates of whale sightings. Photos and videos flooded my newsfeed and each day we grew to love this whale more and more. Naturally, a Facebook page was set up for our new friend and a name was given. Initially, Tyler was selected as the whale’s name. But after a surge of complaints the whale was re-named Matariki and his page is now called Tyler Matariki the Wellington Whale.

Photo by Simon Woolf

On Friday, Matariki caused a ruckus when he decided to hang out right next to the ferry’s dock. From my apartment you could hear a loud horn as the ferry driver tried to get the whale to move, which took 30 minutes.

But the ferry service wasn’t all that the whale interrupted. The Matariki celebrations were scheduled for the 7th of July. Matariki is the signaling of the Maori New Year so a full fireworks display was scheduled for the important cultural event. However, concerns were raised about the whale’s well being with so many fireworks being set off. Specifically, the Department of Conservation (Doc) feared it may agitate the whale and were unsure on how it would behave. So on Friday a decision was made to postpone Matariki celebrations until the following weekend, pleasing everyone who had grown to love him.

One small step for mankind, one giant leap breach for whales.

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