Blue whales are infrequently reported from New Zealand and their taxonomic status is unclear. Here we present new information on the residency, external morphology, and habitat use of blue whales encountered in New Zealand waters. Thirty-one blue whales were photo-identified around the North and South Islands of New Zealand from 2004 to 2014 in seven different months of the year. One photographic match was found between June 2011 and March 2013: the first evidence that an individual blue whale has remained in or returned to New Zealand waters in different years and seasons. Observations of the external morphology of blue whales encountered off the South Island confirm that there is a shorter, non-Antarctic form of blue whale occurring near New Zealand. Body length and proportion, head shape, body condition, and skin condition were similar to Australian but not Antarctic blue whales. In 2013, feeding behavior was observed off the South Island's west coast and strong evidence of feeding was observed off the east coast and is the first reported occurrence of feeding for these locations. Feeding behavior was also observed in the Hauraki Gulf in November 2010. Feeding in these widely spread locations, in addition to the recently reported foraging ground in the South Taranaki Bight, suggest that New Zealand coastal waters are a feeding area for blue whales.
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Vol. 69 • No. 4