Marine Mammal Spotlight - Hector's Dolphins

Only found in New Zealand’s waters, this distinctive grey dolphin with black and white markings and a round dorsal fin (much like the shape of a Mickey Mouse ear) is the most easily recognised species of dolphin in New Zealand. The Hector’s dolphin is one of the smallest marine dolphins in the world.

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Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are known to Māori by other names, including tutumairekurai (special ocean dweller) & aihe.

Hector’s dolphin was named after James Hector who is believed to be the first person to have examined this species.

Two sub-species of Hector’s dolphins exist: the South Island Hector’s dolphin which is found around the South Island of New Zealand, and the Maui’s dolphin which is found off the west coast of the North Island.

Hector’s dolphins are found around the coast of the South Island but distribution is patchy. There is a population of Hector’s around Banks Peninsula area and also we have a small population in Kaikoura. We can see them at times on our tours in a small pod of between 2-3 individuals sometimes up to a dozen.

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Interesting facts

Hector’s dolphins are known to live to a maximum of about 20 years.

Like other dolphins, Hector’s use echolocation to find their food. They send out high frequency ‘clicks’ that bounce off surrounding objects and fish, giving the dolphins a detailed picture of their surroundings. This sonar is not used all the time, which may be one of the reasons why the dolphins get caught in nets.

Females reach sexual maturity between seven to nine years of age. They produce just one calf every two to three years, making population increase a very slow process.

Most females only have four or five calves in a lifetime. Calving usually occurs between November and mid-February, and calves stay with their mothers for up to two years.

Traditionally, Māori watched dolphin movements to predict the weather.

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Threats to Hector’s dolphin

Dolphins and people have shared our shores and bays for centuries. In recent years, there has been a worldwide increase in awareness of marine mammals and a greater desire to protect them.

Set net fishing poses a major threat to Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Like all marine mammals they need to come to the surface regularly to breathe. If they become tangled in set nets, they will hold their breath until they suffocate.

Because these dolphins occur close inshore, often in bays and harbours, they are at risk of being injured by boats. Newborn dolphins are particularly vulnerable as they swim relatively slowly, close to the surface. Some have been killed by boat propellers, when unwary boaties have run them over.

Here are some tips on how you can help them

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QUICK FACTS ABOUT HECTOR’S DOLPHINS

  1. Hector’s dolphin is a marine mammal which means it breathes air, gives birth to live children, produces milk and is a warm-blooded animal.
  2. The scientific name for Hector’s dolphin is, “Cephalorhynchus hectori”.
  3. This marine mammal uses echolocation to search for food and navigate the ocean at night or when swimming in locations that have little to no light.
  4. These dolphins are a protected species and hunting them could lead to fines and/or jail time.
  5. Hector’s dolphin makes up one of around 80 known species of cetacea and one of around 40 known dolphin species.
  6. Aside from Maui’s dolphin this marine mammal is one of the smallest recorded species of cetacea. In fact, some researchers consider this to be the smallest cetacean while others consider Maui’s dolphin to be the smallest.
  7. Natural predators of Hector’s dolphin include sharks and killer whales.
  8. These marine mammals are known as conscious sleepers which means they are always aware of their need for oxygen and never fall completely asleep because they could drown if they don’t remain conscious.
  9. As a species dolphins are extremely intelligent and are able to perform acrobatic feats and complete complex tasks when properly trained. In fact dolphins are one of the most intelligent animals known to mankind aside from chimpanzees, apes and elephants.

 

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***WHALE WATCH KAIKOURA UPDATE***

Over the last week we have had around 3 to 4 sperm whales feeding close inshore which has made for some fantastic sightings. There has also been a humpback whale visiting Kaikōura over the last couple of weeks which has been making itself known on our tours also much to our crew and customers delight. Dolphins, NZ fur seals and marine birds have also regular viewings on our tours.

For guests who are planning on joining us over the next week please note NZTA have issued a notice to all travellers that State Highway 1 Coastal Route south from Kaikōura to Christchurch is closed to all traffic from 8pm on Sunday 26 March to 7am on Tuesday 4 April. This is to allow remedial work to take place and to make the coastal route more resilient during times of unfavourable weather. Please use Inland Route 70 which is open 24/7 during this time, please also allow extra time in your travel plans when using this alternative route.

Progress is being made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina and we continue to switch between using a berth and our modified trailer unit for launching our vessel Tohorā, when and where possible we are also making use of the public jetty that we have modified, (this is a first for us but when presented with challenges we have embraced them post-earthquake and used our ingenuity) this is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. It is anticipated that the Kaikōura Marina will be fully operational by the middle of this year.

Currently our available tour times are based around the tide times on the day and may differ from the tour times originally advertised, please bear with us as we continue to work toward being fully operational again. For an update on the tour times available please contact our Customer Service team directly either by email on res@whalewatch.co.nz or phone +64 3 319 6767 or free phone 0800 655 121 (within NZ) and they will be able to help you with your inquiry.  Please note we are operating at a reduced capacity in the interim with up to 3 tours available per day, please contact our team prior to arriving in Kaikōura to secure a space on one of our tours and to save disappointment.

Kaikōura Business Update:

Kaikōura is open for business. For latest updates on accommodation / restaurant and retail information please contact the team at the Kaikōura i-Site who will be able to help you find what suits your needs during your stay in Kaikōura.

Transport Update:

All subject to weather conditions, slips, repair work and seismic activity. Updates available from the NZTA WEBSITE.

Intercity & Hasslefree Tours have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch, as well as Kiwi Experience now having the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers.

Progress on the work being done on roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on this dedicated KAIKOURA EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE page provided by the team at NZTA, this page is updated weekly on Friday. Work is also starting to take place on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

Please consider taking the time to visit Kaikōura, your support is most welcome.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.