Hector Dolphins ( New Zealand Dolphin)

Hector’s dolphins are the smallest and one of the rarest marine dolphin in the world, they are only found right here in New Zealand – Akaroa is one of the only places in the world where you can see them close to shore as they happily reside here in our turquoise and emerald green waters of our stunning marine reserve.

Endangered Hector dolphin sighting

Hector dolphins are classed as am endangered marine mammal, they live in the sea but breathe air. They are very sacred to the area, the Maori name for hector dolphins translates as treasure of the sea!
The Hector’s dolphin was named after Sir James Hector, who was the curator of the Colonial Museum in Wellington (now Te Papa).He was the most influential New Zealand scientist of his time.

What do they look like?

Of all the dolphins seen in New Zealand waters, Hector’s dolphins are the only ones with a rounded dorsal fin  alot like a mickey mouse ear – all other species of dolphin found in New Zealand waters have pointy shaped fins. They also have distinctive black markings on their fins, tails, flippers and faces.
While common dolphins reach about 2.6 metres in length, Hector’s dolphins grow to only 1.5 metres long and weigh about 35 to 50 kilograms (males are smaller than females). They are so small you could fit them into a bathtub!

Hector dolphins living in paradise

Hector’s dolphins live for up to 20 years.They swim in small pods and sometimes just pairs.
These very special animals and there are only 7000 individuals left as their suvival is under threat due to fishing nets, getting hit by boats and of course plastic in the oceans!The single biggest threat to Hectors dolphins is us humans!

Interesting facts about our hector dolphins

The lungs of Hector’s dolphin are small, only about the size of human lungs, so they drown in about the same period of time a human would if they get tangled in set nets!
A subspecies of the hector is the  Maui’s dolphin which are listed as “Critically Endangered”, as there are only an estimated 55 individuals left!

They prefer shallow water (usually less than 100m) and usually stay within a home range of about 30 km of coastline all their lives. They feed on fish  dwell near the seafloor in shallow, often sandy bottomed waters, making frequent short dives to find food, such as flounder, red cod, mackerel, crabs and squid.
They use echo-location to locate their prey – it’s like seeing with sound. Dolphins send out a stream of high frequency clicking noises and when the sound strikes an object it bounces back and the dolphin can tell by listening what the object is – what kind of fish it is, how far away it is and how fast it is moving. In familiar areas, their echo-location is ‘turned off’, which means they cannot always detect dangers.


Hector’s dolphins are similar to the endangered parrot the kakapo, in that they do not breed very often, which causes problems for the species’ survival. Female dolphins only produce one calf every 2-4 years and do not start breeding until they are seven to nine years old.

How can I help the Hector’s dolphins?

If you find stranded  dolphins:

Report whale or dolphin sightings or strandings phone the DOC HOTline 24 hour emergency number:

0800 DOC HOTline (0800 362 468)

You can help!

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife. This is a FREE call when travelling in NZ

  • Please don’t attempt to swim with dolphins but if you are swimming near dolphins, avoid wearing suntan lotion or insect repellent as chemicals can irritate dolphin’s eyes.
  • Do not try to touch a Hector’s dolphin.
  • If in a boat use a “no wake” speed within 300 metres of dolphins. Should you need to outdistance them, you may increase your speed gradually to a maximum of 10 knots.
  • Do not feed  dolphins. Human food is harmful.
  • Keep their environment clean. Take your rubbish home, and if you find any floating at sea or on the coast, please pick it up.

If you See a Hector’s dolphin killed in a set net..

  • Contact the Ministry of Fisheries on 0800 4 POACHER (0800 4 76224) if you see set nets being used within closed areas.
  • If you accidentally catch or harm a dolphin you must report it as soon as possible to DOC or Mfish.

If alive:

  • Keep the mammal wet, but don’t pour water down its blow hole
  • Keep them upright
  • Keep them shaded from the sun

 White-Flippered Penguin ( smallest in the world)

What Do They look like?

The White-flippered Penguin has an overall blue-grey appearance, which is very similar to the Little Penguin (Blue Penguin) we like to think they are cousins!.They are distinguished with broad white trailing and leading edges of the flipper. They typically grow to 30 cm tall and weighing 1.5 kg. We see them when they are out fishing in the marine reserve which is really a special experience for visitors to witness them washing themselves and swimming around looking for food. Most tourists would only witness penguins walking in from the sea at dusk as they are returning to their nests, so kayaking and seeing them in their natural habitat is a real treat!

Where do they live and how many are left?

The White-flippered Penguin is endemic to Canterbury, New Zealand. They breed only on Banks Peninsula (2,200 pairs) and Motunau Island (1,800 pairs). It is considered to be the one and only indigenous creature unique to Canterbury, New Zealand!

How and where do they make nests?

White-flippered Penguins lay their eggs in a burrow lined with plant material, or in hollows under bushes or rocks, in dunes, or on vegetated slopes of coasts and islands. They feed on small shoaling fish or squid, and sometimes on crustaceans.

How endangered are they?

The most recent estimate of the total population is only 4,000 pairs (1,800 on Motunau Island and 2,200 on Banks Peninsula). IUCN (The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) and Birdlife International classified White-flippered penguin as “Endangered”, and D.O.C. (Department of Conservation, New Zealand) as “Acutely-Threatened”.

What is threatening our penguins?

The key land-based threats to White-flippered Penguins continue to be predation by introduced predators and habitat degradation by human activities. Ferrets, feral cats and stoats are the main predators. Also, domestic dogs could be a major threat.
At sea, White-flippered Penguins have been frequently caught in near-shore set nets, especially around Motunau Island. A large oil spill would be disastrous to this penguin, and the threat is high because the birds nest in areas near shipping lanes.

Why are they endangered?

Before European settlement started around 1850 to Banks Peninsula, there were tens of thousands of White-flippered Penguins. They have disappeared from much of their range since then, and are in much reduced numbers where they have survived. Human settlement destroyed habitat outright and predators have overrun many of the remaining colonies.
In a recent study, the aggregate number of nests declined from 489 to 85 between 1981 and 2000: an overall loss of 83%. On Motunau Island where no human lives and without any predators the population has been stable.

What can we do to save them?

Some farmers on Banks Peninsula have been privately taking actions to protect White-flippered penguins by banning dogs on beaches. DOC has introduced trapping in many areas and NZ as whole aims to be predator free by 2050. Most importantly we can all do our part to clean up our oceans and saying no to using single use plastics which is ending up killing alot of our sea creatures.

New Zealand Fur Seal

The NZ fur seal displays many unique features including its size, range, diet and life cycle.

How can I tell if I see a NZ fur seal?

NZ fur seals are so special! Fur seals and sea lions are distinguished from other seals by their external ear flaps and hind flippers which rotate forward, allowing them to move quickly on land.

Nz fur seals hiding in the rocks!

New Zealand fur seals can be distinguished from sea lions by their pointy nose and smaller size. In New Zealand, fur seals also tend to be found on rocky shorelines, whereas sea lions prefer sandy beaches.

This pointy-nosed seal has long pale whiskers and a body covered with two layers of fur. Their coat is dark grey-brown on the back, and lighter below; when wet, look almost black. In some animals the longer upper hairs have white tips which give the animal a silvery appearance. The New Zealand fur seal/kekeno feed mainly on squid and small mid-water fish but also take larger species such as conger eels, barracuda, jack mackerel and hoki, mostly off the continental shelf.

 Dive patterns

New Zealand fur seals diving patterns mimics their prey..they stay very deep underwater during the day, and then come closer to the surface at night. They dive deeper and longer than any other fur seal. Female fur seals on the West Coast are known to (occasionally) dive deeper than 238 m, and for as long as 11 minutes. Fur seals feed almost exclusively at night, when prey is closer to the surface, as deep as 163 m during summer.

Their summer foraging is concentrated over the continental shelf, or near the slope. They will dive continuously from sundown to sunrise.

In autumn and winter, they dive much deeper, with many dives greater than 100 m. Some females dive deeper than 240 m, and from satellite tracking they may forage up to 200 km beyond the continental slope in water deeper than 1000 m!