Marine Birds

Hutton’s shearwater/tītī is the only New Zealand seabird that breeds in a sub-alpine environment. The species is nationally endangered, with its two remaining breeding colonies located in the Seaward Kaikōura Mountain’s.

Kaikōura marine birds, Hutton Shearwaters.

Hutton’s shearwater/tītī were first described in 1912 but it was not until 1965 that their Seaward Kaikōura mountain breeding grounds were re-discovered by Geoff Harrow, an amateur Christchurch ornithologist. 

The adult population of Hutton’s shearwater is around 460,000, but the species is classified as ‘nationally endangered’ because of its rapid rate of decline.

About the size of a common red-billed seagull, Hutton’s shearwater are thought to live for about 30 years.

Birds arrive at their colony from Australian coastal waters in late August onwards then spend about two months competing for burrows and mates.  The male and female take turns to incubate the single egg, laid in a burrow up to three metres long between late October and late November. Incubation takes about 50 days.

Each day adult birds travel approximately 20 kilometres to the sea, to eat fish and krill which are later fed to their young.  On their downhill flight they travel at up to 154 km/h, reaching the ocean in as little as seven minutes. The return trip takes around 38 minutes, with 1200 metres or more in altitude to be gained with a bellyful of fish.

When the young fledge in March and April, they migrate with other Hutton’s shearwater to fish-rich waters off the Australian coast. Young birds stay there for three or four years then return to Kaikōura to breed at five to six years old.

Other Shearwaters

Six species of Shearwaters can be seen aboard Whale Watch tours and around the Kaikōura Coast. Species including the Bullers Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater and the Fluttering Shearwater.

Quick facts:


Of the 14 varieties of Petrels that visit Kaikōura, the largest is the fierce-looking Southern Giant Petrel and the smallest the tiny Common Diving Petrel that can weigh as little as 130 grams. Petrels are famous for their ability to 'swim' under water after prey - some diving to depths of 10 metres or more.

Kaikōura marine birds, Cape Petrel.

Petrels are scavengers commonly seen on Whale Watch tours as they like to hang around whales, dolphins and seals to grab food scraps brought to the surface. The Southern Giant Petrel has also been observed killing and eating smaller seabirds.

Examples of some petrel species you may come across on a whale watching tour:


At almost 4 metres the Wandering Albatross has the greatest wingspan of any living bird. They are a spectacular and frequent sight on Whale Watch tours. Although extremely endangered, 13 varieties of albatross, including the magnificent Salvin's Albatross, are attracted to the waters of Kaikōura where they can sometimes be seen scavenging large chunks of squid brought to the surface by Sperm Whales.

Tens of thousands of albatross are killed each year by the longline fishing industry. As surface feeders, the birds swallow the baited hooks before they have time to sink.

Kaikōura marine birds. A royal albatross skimming the surface of the ocean water

Quick Facts:


Mollymawks, are considerably smaller than the great albatrosses. Of the world’s nine species, only two do not breed in New Zealand.

Kaikōura marine birds, Mollymawk.

Most mollymawks breed annually, laying one egg on a pedestal nest if enough soil is available. Mollymawk colonies are densely packed, usually located on elevated cliff platforms above the sea from where they can launch themselves readily.

Some examples of the mollymawks that we get to see from time to time include: Shy, Salvins, Black browed and the Bullers Mollymawk.

Quick Facts:


Four varieties of penguin have been spotted around Kaikōura by Whale Watch crew - the Chinstrap Penguin, the Fiordland Crested Penguin, the Yellow-eyed Penguin and the Blue Penguin. Yellow-Eyed and Blue Penguins are the more commonly seen species.

Kaikōura marine birds, Blue Penguin.

Yellow-Eyed Penguins (pictured) have been found sitting on the breakwater at the Whale Watch marina. They are endangered species of penguin so it is definitely a treat for all when we come across them on one of our tours.

Hoiho is the Maori name for the Yellow-Eyed penguin, an endangered and protected species native to New Zealand. Hoiho means 'noisy shouter' - the penguin's piercing call can be heard over the roar of waves crashing on rocks.

The Little Blue Penguin is known by many different names such as blue penguin, little penguin, little blue penguin and is more commonly known as fairy penguins in Australia. It is the world’s smallest penguin measuring around 25cm tall and only 1-1.5kg in weight.

A small breeding colony exists near the Kaikōura Coastguard building at South Bay, Kaikōura. Artificial burrows have been installed underneath the building whilst other penguins breed in the surrounding area.

Throughout the week we have continued to see transient Sperm Whales as well as semi-residential Sperm Whale Jonah. We also encountered the regular non-whale visitors on the majority of our tours, including Dusky Dolphins, Hectors Dolphins and NZ Fur Seals.

Orca made an appearance over the weekend and are kicking off our Summer season early! We spotted five of them Saturday afternoon, making for some serious exciting tours for not only our passengers but also our Sea Crew!

The official opening of our marina is tomorrow, and you’re all invited! The 14th of November marks exactly one year on from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck us last year. There is a dawn blessing at 6:00AM and special guests will be arriving at 12:30PM, so come celebrate with a BBQ and some boat and marina tours with us! If you can’t make it, then don’t worry as we’ll be going live over on our Facebook Page.


There is a possibility of short delays with it being 30km/hour through parts of the route. 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.