Humpback whales grow to about 48 ft in length, but their baleen plates are much shorter and coarser than those of right whales and have never been of much commercial value. Humpbacks are caught primarily for oil, as adults processed by modern methods produce 10 or more tons each. In recent years, however, the meat has become important for pet food and meat meal. Humpbacks pass New Zealand annually in winter and spring when they migrate north to tropical breeding grounds and in late spring they return south to the Antarctic feeding grounds. Many travel relatively close to shore while they pass New Zealand and some have been caught in past years by New Zealand shore stations. As they were less valuable and harder to catch from open boats than southern right whales, small numbers only were taken during the nineteenth century.
The large, fast-swimming fin and blue whales, which form the greatest part of the Antarctic factoryship catch today, tend to avoid coastlines, and New Zealand shore whalers have caught a total of less than 10 individuals. Many small species, such as pilot whales, dolphins, and beaked whales occur, but they have never been hunted commercially in New Zealand waters.