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.

Hector's Dolphins - Kaikōura, New Zealand

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.

Guests watching Hector's Dolphins, Things to do in Kaikōura, New Zealand

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.

A pod of Hector's Dolphins - Kaikōura, New Zealand

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

Close-up of Hector's Dolphins - Kaikōura, New Zealand

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.

 

Hector's Dolphins - Kaikōura, New Zealand

We had some stunning weather over the weekend along with some great sightings on our tours. Not only were we able to see sperm whales but also the rare opportunity of seeing a pod of beaked whales pass by the Kaikōura coastline. Not a common sight at all and one that is very treasured by all when we do.

Over the weekend we also had a visit from a couple of the crew from Emirates Team New Zealand with the America’s Cup. It was great to have the opportunity to see the cup up close. Check out this video to see how the afternoon went.

The Huttons Shearwater (Tītī) are special to us in Kaikōura. Their habitat sustained considerable loss during the Nov 2016 earthquake. Please take the time to vote for them as Bird of the Year and this status will help secure the much needed funding for more research so we can plan for their future.

REGULAR, SCHEDULED CLOSURES OF STATE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH OF KAIKOURA

The highway will be open during daylight hours on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (perfect for a long weekend getaway) from 7AM to 7PM.

The highway will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for repairs to take place. 

The closure schedule is expected to remain in place until December 2017.

There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Please be aware that this week is a full closure week - Monday 16 to Friday 20 October. The road will reopen to the public midday on Friday 20 October for Labour weekend travellers. Another full week closure is scheduled for Monday 6 to Friday 10 November. 

Something worth celebrating...

Restoration work on the Kaikoura marina begun 10 months ago, and over the weekend we celebrated being able to now use berth 3 & 4. We have been using our trailer unit & the public jetty for some time now so to be able to pull up into our berths is quite an exciting feat. We still have a wee way to go but this is a HUGE step closer to being fully operational. We are very thankful for the amazing work the harbour repair crew are doing in what are at times trying conditions. We are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! We cannot thank the tireless effort that the workers have put in to get us to this stage especially in what has been trying conditions at times.

More great news…

We thank you all for your patience over the last 11 months with the changing tour times with having work in line with the tides but with being able to now use berth 3 & 4 it means that we are now back running on our original fixed tour timetable. 0715, 1000, 1245 & 1530 (Nov-Mar)

KAIKOURA 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

Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express 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.

11 months on and we are starting to see some real progress – the teams out on the road, rail and the marina are all doing such an amazing job for which we are so thankful. And, we cannot thank you all enough for your continual support.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura