Marine Mammal Spotlight - Pilot Whales

It is during our summer months that we tend to see Pilot Whales passing through Kaikōura waters, recently we had a pod pass through that had a new born calf with them, being able to tell by the birth rings still evident on its body. Here are a selection of images and a video that our crew managed to capture on the day.


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Pilot whales spyhopping

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Example of their large bulbous forehead

Like the Orca, the long-finned Pilot Whale is a dolphin but under the marine mammal protection regulations they are treated as whales.

They are black or dark-grey in colouring with light grey or white markings on the throat area and something behind the dorsal fin and eye area.

Their dorsal fins are slope like in feature and rounded looking much like the shape of a breaking wave.

It is the male that is larger than the female and can grow up to over 6 meters in length with females growing to around 5 meters.

Probably the most distinguishable characteristic is their large bulbous forehead.

They are very social and can be seen travelling in pods of up to 100+ individuals.

Pilot Whales are well known for their stranding’s with Golden Bay, Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands being the main ‘hotspots’ for these sad events. While it is not well understood why these stranding’s happen there are a couple of theories as to why.

The most likely reason being that Pilot Whales echolocation is not well-suited to the shallow, gentle sloping water because they generally tend to prefer the steeper areas such as the edge of the continental shelf. This would explain why most mass stranding’s happen in summer when the whales are following popular food sources inshore.

They also have very strong family bonds, and so when one strands the rest of the pod tends to follow.

Many of our crew are trained as marine mammal medics and can assist organisations such as Project Jonah when a marine mammal emergency arises.

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Pilot Whales can often be seen with dolphins traveling with them

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State Highway 1 both North & South of Kaikōura

& Inland Road Route 70 between Christchurch (via Waiau) to Kaikōura is OPEN 24/7.

Please drive to the conditions & visit nzta.govt.nz/p2c for more information.