There have been 13 species of beaked whales recorded in New Zealand waters, all of which exist in our tissue archive (see NZCeTA below). Sightings of live beaked whales are extremely rare even though some of them are our most frequently stranded species. They can be difficult to identify in the field so genetic techniques have been very useful in determining which species strand and where. Kirsten Thompson has recently completed her MSc on the enigmatic Gray’s beaked whale, a poorly understood species that is almost solely seen when they wash up on beaches around NZ. Her project involved the use of mitochondrial markers and morphometric analysis to determine the population structure of the species. We are now using microsatellite analyses to understand relatedness between individual Gray’s beaked whales at mass-stranding events. This will hopefully allow us to gain insights into their social structure. We have had some exciting findings about our beaked whales, including some of the world’s rarest species washing up on our beaches (Thompson et al. 2012; Thompson et al. 2013).

Post-graduate research:
Completed in Feb 2013: Kirsten Thompson (BSc Hons (Zoology); University of Glasgow, Scotland) – MSc (1st Class Hons).
Co-supervisor Dr Craig Millar
Advisors Prof. Scott Baker (Oregon State University) & Anton van Helden (Te Papa Tongarewa)