Marine Mammal Spotlight - Toothed Cetaceans

There are at least 61 species of toothed whales dolphins and porpoises, ranging from the largest 16-20m sperm whale to the smallest 1-1.2m Hector dolphin.


Hector's dolphins

Kaikoura is unique for both the sperm whale and the hector dolphin, both of which could be observed almost daily off the coastline. A total of around 9 different toothed whales and dolphins have been positively identified on more than one occasion off the Kaikoura coast which include: dusky dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, southern right whale dolphins, pilot whales, killer whales and the beaked whales, all being beautiful creatures to see in the wild.

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Pod of orca

Odontoceti’s use their teeth to seize prey such as fish or squid, which is then generally swallowed whole.  In order to locate and catch their food, the toothed whales and dolphins, like bats have developed a sonar or echolocation system, in which sounds are emitted from their heads and reflect off solid objects.  The returning echo is interpreted by the whales and dolphins and enables them to determine the size, composition, distance and direction of the object they have focused on.  The sperm whales echolocation sounds like the rhythmic clicking sounds of a clock – such as this example.


The sperm whales echolocation is what we listen out for when using our captains use our purpose built hydrophones, listening out for the rhythmic clicking sound (like the ticking of a clock) as they are in search mode of their prey or navigating their way.

In addition to their echolocation most toothed whales and dolphins have developed the ability to communicate by using clicks, whistles, squeaks, squeals and some such as the orca have even developed dialects which differ from pod to pod.

Many toothed whales and dolphins utilize these communication skills to help catch their prey and form social groups to hunt cooperatively. 

One way you can tell toothed whales & dolphins from baleen whales if by their blowholes with toothed whales and dolphins having one blowhole and baleen whales having two. Another difference being that baleen whales have a small throat and large tongue whereas the toothed whales & dolphins have a large throat and small tongue. 

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Sperm whales blowhole found on the left hand tip of his head


Kaikōura’s Summer weather has been a treat this past week, making for some epic sea conditions and amazing clear sightings of marine life out on the water.

It seems like Tiaki and Tutu, two of our favourite whales to see out in the Canyon, have been getting reacquainted since they’ve reunited, as this marks the second week in a row that we’ve seen catching a breather up on the surface and diving down to feed together. Looks like they missed each other as much as we missed them whilst they were away!

Other semi-residential Sperm Whales we saw this week included Mati Mati and Aoraki as well as many transient Sperm Whales who are constantly drawn to Kaikōura due to the abundance of food on offer. As with the majority of our tours, we sighted NZ Fur Seals, Hectors Dolphins, Dusky Dolphins and a variety of seabirds including the Great Wandering Albatross.

Who else is planning to kick start their Summer with a whale watching tour? Bring your family and friends along too and make it an adventure! Buy a whale watching gift voucher or, better yet, check out our Marine Combo deal! Get above, on and below the water with a scenic flight, whale watching boat trip and swim with the dolphins! The ultimate gift this Christmas and one of the best ways to make some lasting Summer memories.

Don’t forget, State Highway 1 North is re-opening this Friday afternoon. And yes, the world famous Nins Bin caravan will be ready to welcome you back! So if you’re making your way along the Coast, stop to enjoy the warm weather, soak up the scenes and take in this incredible new landscape that Kaikōura is quickly becoming known for. They’ll be serving freshly caught crayfish and all that other good stuff including mussels, whitebait and the classic Kiwi fish n’ chips right on the beach – does it get any better?!


There is a possibility of short delays with it being 30km/hour through parts of the route. The full rebuild of the highway will continue in 2018. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. INLAND ROUTE 70 IS OPEN 24/7.


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. 


Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch. Kiwi Experience now have the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers. Intercity Bus also provides a bus service between Christchurch and Kaikoura return.

Progress on the work being done on the roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on the dedicated Kaikoura Earthquake Response page provided by the team at NZTA. This page is updated weekly on Fridays. Work is also underway on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.