Southern right whales (SRWs) were once common around mainland New Zealand, where sheltered inshore waters were used for calving in winter. The species was heavily exploited in the 19th Century to the point that they were commercially extinct by 1851. Following global protection in 1935, there were no sightings of SRWs around the mainland, and it was feared the New Zealand stock had been completely extirpated. However, small remnant populations visited sub-Antarctic islands each winter, from which the stock began a slow recovery.

In the last 20 years, research on SRWs in New Zealand waters has focused on the calving ground at the more accessible sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands, and all demographic parameters estimated for the New Zealand stock are derived from the those data alone. However, a significant number of SRWs may also be present at the more remote Campbell Island. Historical whaling records and opportunistic observations throughout the 20th Century, including of cow-calf pairs, confirm the presence of SRWs at Campbell Island. No survey of this population has been conducted since 1997, which has led to an incomplete understanding of the New Zealand stock of SRWs.

A field team will spend a month on Campbell Island in the middle of winter 2014 to collect distribution and photo-ID data and tissue biopsy samples from this rarely studied southern right whale population. The GEMM Lab is working with colleagues in New Zealand (NIWA, Universities of Otago and Auckland) and Scotland (University of St Andrews) to analyze the collected data to determine the number of adults and calves using this breeding area, their distribution patterns around the island, their connectivity to other populations, and their dietary patterns.