Whale still frolicking in Wellington Harbour as fireworks date approaches

A large whale is still hanging out in the Wellington Harbour and appears to have no plans to leave, the day before a Matariki fireworks display is due to take place on the water.

The southern right or tohara whale, first spotted in the harbour by NIWA scientists on Wednesday, was seen frolicking in the water near the Interislander Ferry terminal on Friday morning.

A crowd was lined up at the water's edge watching as the whale rolled around in the water and flapped its tail, likely making some people late for work again. 

A Wellington City Council spokesperson said it is considering cancelling or postponing the fireworks display if the whale is still in the harbour on Saturday, but the whale could depart by then.

The whale on Wednesday.
The whale on Wednesday. Photo credit: NIWA

The council is awaiting expert advice from the Department of Conservation about what should be done, which is expected later on Friday.

If the fireworks display goes ahead on Saturday, it will be the first time in 22 years that it coincides with the Māori New Year.

Adult southern right whales average 14-15 metres in length, and can be identified by their lack of dorsal fin, V-shaped blowhole spray and white growths on their heads called callosities.

The whale on Thursday.
The whale on Thursday. Photo credit: Maritime NZ

They are slow swimmers and are known for being acrobatic and inquisitive. They rarely approach mainland New Zealand but when they do, it tends to be close to shore in sheltered waters.

The whale on Friday.
The whale on Friday. Photo credit: Newshub

Earlier on Friday, Clarke Gayford tweeted about the origins of the name of the southern right whale, and wondered if the Wellington whale may be the same one that visited Auckland several years ago.

The whales were hunted to near extinction a couple of decades ago but the population is slowly recovering.

It's believed that they were once so abundant in the Wellington Harbour, they kept people awake at night. 

All vessels including kayaks and paddleboards are required to stay at least 50m from whales at all times, and only three vessels are allowed to be within within 300m.