Marine Mammal Spotlight - Humpback Whale

Over the weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to view a humpback whale on our tours. Our guests were treated to this whale breaching as well which is always wonderful to see. With this in mind I thought it would be good opportunity to provide you with some great information about these beautiful creatures – enjoy!

Amazing flip from Humpback whale at Kaikōura, New Zealand

The humpback whale is one of the most easily recognised whale species. Known for their large flippers (which can be up to one-third of their body size), and the hump on their backs. Their colouring is anywhere from a grey to black colour and have white markings on their underbelly. These markings are differing in every whale, being like fingerprints, allowing researchers to identify individuals.

 Humpback whale flipper

Humpback whales hunt and feed during the summer months in the colder waters like Antarctica and then migrate to warmer tropical waters during the winter months for mating. It is around this time of the year that we are able to start to see the annual migration take place with humpback whales passing by the Kaikōura Coastline between May / June / July and August – heading up towards Australia and Tonga for the mating season.

 Humpback whale flipping at Kaikōura, New Zealand

The humpback whales diet is made up of fish and krill. They are baleen whales, meaning they are filter feeders. These whales have two parallel rows of baleen plates attached to their jaws, allowing them to filter water for the fish and krill.

 Close-up of Humpback whale flipping - Kaikōura, New Zealand

During the feeding season these humpback whales hunt using a technique known as bubble net fishing, where a group of whales will swim around its prey in a circle and blow bubbles, create loud vocal sounds or slap their large flippers against the water to stun fish into forming  into a small ball and rising to the surface where the whale can then swim up and lunge at the fish with an open mouth and engulf thousands of small fish in a single gulp using their baleen plates to separate water and from their prey.

During the mating season humpback whales will fast, living off body fat reserves and completely forgo eating.

Humpback whales breathe voluntarily, unlike human beings. Since they have to remember to breathe, researchers believe humpback whales sleep by shutting off half of their brain at a time.

These whales are known for their complex mating songs. Researchers have studied the whale songs for years, and the complexity of these songs suggests the whales are extremely intelligent creatures. Only the males are responsible for the whale songs, however, since they are primarily a mating signal. These sounds can be heard many miles away and are heard as a combination of moans, howls and cries among other noises which can go on for hours. 

Not only famous for the haunting love songs these whales are also well known for their acrobatics. They can be frequently seen leaping out of the water and sometimes can use their flukes to propel themselves completely out of the ocean – known as a breach which is something we have been witnessing today.

 Spectacular Humpback whale flip - Kaikōura, New Zealand

We are truly blessed with the amazing marine life that we can see off the Kaikōura Coastline, truly is a marine mecca.

We had it all over the weekend – sunshine, wild wind, sleet, warmth, cold and beautiful new snow on the Kaikoura ranges. Despite the conditions over the weekend in the days leading up we had some great tours with sightings of semi-resident sperm whales Manu and Tiaki and hen time allowed we also saw dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, NZ fur seals and marine birds.

The most recent update on State Highway 1 South from Kaikoura is that it is expected to remain closed till the end of May to allow the construction of a temporary road and rail alignment around the base of the large landslide that came down during April’s heavy rain at Easter. Please allow extra time as you travel through Inland Route 70 which remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

As we enter into the cooler winter months it is a good reminder to take extra care on the roads and to check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling.

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 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 restored by October 2017.

Dredging of the outer channel of the Kaikōura marina is well advanced.

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 & Canterbury Leisure 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.