t’s world Whale day and we love Whales here at Dolphin Seafaris so I thought I’d write a special blog on the species of Whale we’ve encountered on our trips!
Firstly dolphins are in the group known as “toothed whales” So I’ll include them in this post, as we love ALL cetaceans (whales and dolphins) here!
Our most commonly encountered species is the COMMON dolphin! These groovy little guys grow to a maximum of about 2.6 metres and have beautiful colouration of cream/grey/black and yellow in a kind of hourglass pattern on their sides. If you’ve been on the boat with us you’ve probably heard me despairing at their name, I really believe they deserve a much more fitting name than “common” dolphin! It just doesn’t conjure up an image befitting of this marvellous creature!
We also encounter (although much more rarely) BOTTLENOSE Dolphins, the dolphin of ‘flipper’ and Seaworld fame. These guys are much bigger, up to 4 metres in length, mostly grey and amazingly acrobatic, they always know how to put on a fantastic show! New Zealand is at the southernmost point of the bottlenose dolphins range and apart from the three main resident populations (Bay of islands, Doubtful sound and Marborough sound) they’re pretty rare so always a fantastic encounter!
We have Department of conservation permits to swim with both Common and Bottlenose dolphins!
Often hanging around with the Bottlenose Dolphins are PILOT WHALES, most likely Long-finned pilot whales in New Zealand Waters but it’s pretty difficult to count their teeth and x-ray their skulls at sea to tell the difference between long-finned and short-finned! They are in fact Dolphins, however legally (under the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992) they are treated as Whales. Their colouration is dark grey with a light grey/white streak behind their eyes, behind their dorsal fin and on their chest and they have a distinctive bulbous forehead! These are the guys often involved in Mass Strandings in New Zealand which is always very sad!
Similar to the Pilot Whales we have the False Killer whales or Psuedorca, also a big dolphin. They look a lot like the Orca being mostly black, although without the bright white patches. Not much is known about this species and there is currently a study at Massey University in Auckland to learn more about them!
Despite their name, the killer whale/orca is actually the largest member of the dolphin family. They are very distinctive looking, big and black with white patches and can grow up to 9 metres long. The New Zealand population is thought to be made up of around 200 individuals. New Zealand coastal Orca are a bit special, as they’re specialist feeders on the rays and skates that inhabit our harbours and estuaries, meaning the Tauranga harbour is a favourite haunt!
Baleen whales are large filter feeders and the true “Whales” that you picture with the word.
Out of the baleen whales we’ve encountered at Dolphin Seafaris the most recent was a Bryde’s Whale (Pronounced Brooda’s). These guys have a resident population in the Hauraki Gulf but are rarer around the rest of the country and are even listed as a nationally critical threatened species by the Department of Conservation. They can grow up to 15m long, and reach up to 17 tonnes meaning a sighting is pretty impressive! They are almost identical to the Sei whales which sit at an average weight of 20–25 tonnes and a length of 15–18 metres, so very difficult to determine the difference out at sea. The Sei Wales have a single groove from snout to blow-holes, the Bryde’s have three – simple eh!
We have also encountered Dwarf and Southern Minke Whales. The Dwarf minke is the most commonly seen, is about 7 metres long, while the southern reaches about 9 metres. Dwarf Minkes are a subspecies of the common or northern Minke, which as a species in general is confined to the northern hemisphere, the Dwarfs however are found around New Zealand and are the smallest of New Zealand’s Baleen whales. Minkes in general are chunkier than its relatives and has a dark grey back with variable pale markings. Sometimes they have a white band on the pectoral fin.
Two seasons ago we also encountered a spectacular Blue whale, the largest creature on the planet. On average, adults weigh between 100 and 120 tonnes, and males are 23 metres long, while females are 24 metres. This sighting was just off Rabbit island, next to the Mount, and from its mottled blue colour was unmistakable. It’s very rare to see Blue whales so close to shore although they have been spotted more recently in the last few years, fingers crossed!
SO there’s a run-down of the species we can see out there but it is in no way an exhaustive list, the Baleen whales have a habit of going off course and we could get humpbacks, fin whales or anything else, we just have to be on our spotting game and be very lucky!
Have an amazing World Whale Day everyone and we really hope to see you on board searching for our whales and dolphins soon!