Scientists are taking to New Zealand waters in hopes of figuring out whether the world's largest mammal has set up home near our shores.
A global team of researchers and the Department of Conservation have begun surveying elusive blue whales feeding of the Taranaki coast to understand more about what they're doing in New Zealand.
The whales are rarely sighted and travel alone or in pairs, with only four known foraging areas in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctic waters.
Although they're thought to have only passed by New Zealand during migration, scientists say the discovery of dozens of whales feeding near New Plymouth two years ago has prompted more research.
Oregon State University marine mammal expert Leigh Torres, who discovered those whales and is now returning for the new research, said the three-year search would help find out whether blue whales were regularly coming to New Zealand to feed.
"This information will help us protect the whales and their habitat," she said.
The researchers will be using hydrophones in the water to record whale calls for the next two years in order to map their movement and numbers.