Whale scientist honoured

19 September 2013

Rochelle Constantine_400px

Marine mammal expert Dr Rochelle Constantine has been honoured for her work on the Hauraki Gulf’s population of Bryde’s whales.

Dr Constantine, from the School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Marine Science at The University of Auckland, was one of three inaugural winners of a Holdaway Award for outstanding leadership in and around the marine park. They recognise the legacy of Jim Holdaway (1918-2012), a decorated World War II pilot, farmer, mayor and civic leader who championed the creation of the reserve, which is New Zealand’s only marine national park.

The awards were initiated by the park’s management body, the Hauraki Gulf Forum, and were announced at Auckland War Memorial Museum on September 9.

Dr Constantine says that the award was “unexpected and I’m very honoured and humbled.”

The award citation says that Dr Constantine’s research and communication has helped Aucklanders understand the value of the Bryde’s whales, which are critically threatened, and the importance of protecting them from ship strike. It adds that Dr Constantine “has communicated her research findings to management agencies and the shipping industry in order to find real, practical solutions” – in general, slowing ships while in Gulf waters.

Dr Constantine says that there are about 200 Bryde’s whales (pronounced Brooders) in New Zealand waters, with roughly 50 of those resident in the Hauraki Gulf region. She researches other marine mammals, but admits that “lately, it’s mostly the Bryde’s that steal my life away”.

The other two winners of Holdaway Awards were Keith Woodley, manager of the Miranda Shorebird Centre, and independent researcher and seabird advocate Chris Gaskin.

The winners received tokotoko (orators’ sticks), designed by Ōrakei carver Katera Maihi, whose imagery represents the islands, waters and catchments of the Hauraki Gulf.

Dr Pauline Kingi, Hauraki Gulf Forum member and Te Puni Kōkiri regional director, says a tototoko carries mana on a marae and assists an orator to deliver messages. “We wanted to bestow on these leaders something special that equips and empowers them to carry on their important work.” Dr Constantine says the “magnificent” tokotoko sits in sight of her desk, “reminding me to keep going”.

The Hauraki Gulf Forum is a statutory body that promotes and facilitates integrated management, protection and enhancement of the Hauraki Gulf under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000.