Story: Canoe navigation

Humpback whale, Cook Strait

Humpback whale, Cook Strait

Humpback and other whale species migrate north from Antarctica to the Pacific in early winter. In November and December, the whales return south to Antarctica, traversing the coasts of New Zealand. Māori ancestors may have believed that following whales would lead them to land – in Polynesia whales typically feed and calve near islands. As humpback whales are shallow divers and do not stay submerged for long, it may have been possible to follow them for some distance. Although they were not strictly a navigational tool, the seasonal appearance and disappearance of whales around Pacific islands may have prompted Polynesians to wonder, ‘Where do they come from, and where do they go?’

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Photograph by Helen McConnell

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How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Canoe navigation - Locating land', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005