Whales, toothfish and the enigma that is Antarctica's sea ice will be targeted in six urgent Kiwi studies on the frozen continent and in the Southern Ocean.

The projects, funded by the Christchurch-based New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute (NZARI), aim to gather fresh insights into the effects of climate change on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

"The degree of potential disruption to the coastal and near-shore regions of Antarctica from ocean and climate warming is an overarching theme of the research," NZARI director Professor Gary Wilson said.

"From algae to toothfish, there is a clear focus on the potential for living species to resist the changes in ocean conditions brought about by global warming."

One study, led by Otago University researchers Professor Stephen Dawson and Dr William Rayment, focuses on southern right whales.

Mothers give birth to calves weighing about 1500kg, yet they do not feed for the several weeks they are on the breeding grounds.

This extraordinary demand for energy was met from reserves accumulated in foraging areas, where they fed on copepod crustaceans and small krill, which in turn fed on phytoplankton, the base of the Southern Ocean food web.

Primary productivity was driven by oceanic conditions, which were profoundly influenced by climate change.

Dawson and Rayment will study how climate-driven variations in productivity affects the condition and breeding success of right whales, measured using specially equipped drones, in the sub-antarctic Auckland Islands.