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Rare whale sighting off Auckland coast

Tuesday 21 Aug 2012 5:35 p.m.

By Samantha Hayes

Two rare southern right whales have been spotted hugging the coastline of Auckland's North Shore suburbs, delighting and worrying onlookers. 

There are only 2100 in New Zealand, and at this time of year they're usually found in the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands breeding ground.

Languidly splashing in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, the two whales were oblivious to the concern they caused. Onlookers feared the endangered mammals were too close to shore. 

"I spent most of the morning getting calls, it was people worried about southern right whales coming in and stranding and nets around its tail," says marine biologist Emma Beatson.

There were also reports the large female was calving in Brown's Bay.

"The calf did look very little, about five metres," says Ms Beatson, "and that's about the size that they're born… The mum was just chilling out a lot and the calf was swimming around a bit, and getting really in close to the shallows, so a lot of people on the beach were getting a good look."

At up to 18 metres in length, it's a large whale to see so close to shore.

It's not unusual for southern right whales to hug the coastline – they're very good at navigating shallow water and will often find rocks where they can rub off dead skin or parasites.

The Department Of Conservation says people shouldn't be concerned about them stranding.

The latest survey put the New Zealand population at 2100, and there are fewer than 10,000 globally.

"It's not uncommon to see orca coming through, but to see whales is something special," says whale watcher Gary Conway.

"We did go to Rarotonga once to try and feel a whale, but we haven't seen it in Milford, no," says Andrea Kelly.\

"Pretty cool," says Louis Kelly-Morris.

It's a rare sight that DOC says is likely to hang around for the next few days.

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