Drones capture unique habitat of whales in the Auckland Islands

Researchers have captured rare video of southern right whales in their natural habitat near the Auckland Islands.

A team from the University of Otago spent a month off the coast of the sub-Antarctic islands, using drones to better analyse the state of the whale population in the southern ocean.

Professor Steve Dawson led a group of six researchers down to the Auckland Islands last month in the hopes of capturing data from a new angle.

"The big change for us is that those vertical photographs tell us about the shape [of the whales] we can see the whole animals, we could never see that from the water surface," he says.

The use of drones gives the team the opportunity to make precise measurements of the condition of the whales.

During the month-long trip - researchers counted more southern right whales in the sub-Antarctic waters than ever before.

"You can hear them blowing constantly in fact you can usually hear them during the night when you're trying to get to sleep and its really quite therapeutic," PhD student David Johnston says.

Researchers are using this data to determine how well the Auckland Island population is recovering from near extinction due to whaling.

"The numbers are increasing the individuals are in really good condition,  there seems to be lots and lots of calves, the mums are in really great condition, so all of those indicators indicate a recovering population that's doing really well," Mr Dawson adds.