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Best Months to View Dolphins and Whales

The Dolphin & Whale viewing guide below is for the Bay of Islands in the North Island of New Zealand.  As you can see every month is good to seeing something, but the winter months (May-July) probably give the greatest range, including the occasional Orca Whale!

Kiakoura on the east coast of the South Island is also a great whale watching region.  Accessible by the TranzCoastal train or by day tour from Christchurch, the magnificent Sperm Whale and the migratory Humpback Whales are best seen in June & July, and Orca from November to February. New Zealand’s own tiny Hectors dolphin and the high spirited displays of the Dusky dolphins are visible mostly all year round. Pilot whales and the occasional Blue Whale are also among species that surface in Kaikoura here.

Day Tours to the Bay of Islands & Kaikoura for dolphin and whale watching experiences:

  1. Kaikoura Whale Watch (Kaikoura ex Christchurch)
  2. Swim With The Dolphins(Bay of Islands ex Auckland)
  3. Discover The Bay & Cape Brett(Bay of Islands ex Auckland)

Orca (Killer) Whales in Auckland Harbour

Last week  about 200 onlookers gathered on Auckland’s Tamaki Drive to watch a pod of Orca Whales hunting close to the shore.  New Zealand Orcas are the only known Orca group that eat stingrays as a staple food, often hunting them into shallow water and sometimes beaching themselves.  Five or six killer whales have chased stingrays within 5-10 metres of the shore. Onlookers saw 2 adult and  3 juvenile orcas throw stingrays into the air and eat them.

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Moko the bottlenosed dolphin swims playfully with humans most days at a Wellington beach. Recently Moko assisted rescue workers to get two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and her calf, back out to sea after they were stranded.

Bottlenose dolphins have a relatively short beak and a high, hooked and prominent dorsal fin. Colour is dark or light grey on the back grading to white on the undersides. The average length of an Adult is 1.9-3.9 m. There are estimated to be around 450 individuals that live in the Bay of Islands area.  Those living close to the shore feed primarily on a variety of inshore bottom-dwelling fish and invertebrate species. Their dives rarely last longer than 3-4 minutes inshore, but may be longer offshore. Females breed every 3-5 years and calves suckle for around 2-3 years. Calving peaks are known to occur for most populations between spring and summer/autumn. Female bottlenose dolphins can live up to more than 50 years of age, and males can reach as old as 40-45 years.

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

Common dolphins may form enormous schools of several thousand individuals. They are also known to associate with schools of pilot whales and other dolphin species such as dusky dolphins. This species is abundant but precise population estimates are largely unknown. Common dolphins feed on a variety of prey, including surface schooling fish species and small mid-water fish and squids. They are known to dive to depths of 280 metres in search of prey and hunt cooperatively within schools. Dives can last up to 8 minutes but are usually between 10 seconds and 2 minutes.

Orca (Killer) Whale (Orcinus orca)

The Orca whale is the most widely distributed mammal on earth with the exception of humans. Females and males differ in that males are longer and bulkier than females and females have smaller, more curved dorsal fins, and smaller flippers. Orca whales are typically encountered in family groups or pods. Pods are usually formed for life and can result in the development of unique dialects. Orcas have a diverse diet but in Auckland they feed solely on stingrays. Orca whales hunt cooperatively and are even known to intentionally strand themselves on beaches temporarily, in order to catch seals.

Females give birth to their first calf between 11 and 16 years of age and tend to do so every five years for their 25-year reproductive life span. The gestation period is 15-18 months and calves are nursed for at least one year. Females are known to live up to 80 or 90 years. Males reach physical maturity at about 21 years of age and live for a maximum of 50-60 years.

New Zealand Fur Seal (Kekeno)

The Fur Seal coat is dark grey-brown on the back, and lighter below; when wet look almost black.  There are estimated to be some 50 – 60,000, Kekeno Fur Seals in New Zealand. They feed mainly on squid and small mid-water fish but also take larger species such as conger eels, barracuda, jack mackerel and hoki mostly off the continental shelf in depths greater than 22 m. The New Zealand fur seal dives deeper and longer than any other fur seal.

The breeding season is from mid-November to Mid-January. Pups are suckled for about 300 days, though some will continue to suckle into their second year. Females alternate foraging trips to feed, with attendance periods, where they are at the rookery to suckle the pup. Pups start to feed on solid food before weaning, and spend a large proportion of time playing with other pups and objects such as seaweed and reef fish. Males are sexually mature at 5 – 6 years, but are unlikely to be socially mature (able to hold a territory) for at least another 3 years. Males may hold territories for more than 5 years. Fur seals are polygamous breeders; this means that a male may mate with many females in a single breeding season.