Swim with dolphins and see dolphins, seals, and occasionally whales. This photgraph is taken with a zoom lens.

The Marlborough Sounds are truly a unique area when it comes to marine mammals.  We find various species  at different times of the year. The sheltered areas provide a spectacular scenic backdrop for viewing these amazing creatures.  Dolphin Watch Ecotours records all sightings during our tours and uses a technique called photoidentification to catalogue the individual dolphins that utilise the sounds.  This dolphin catalogue helps us to describe the distribution, movement patterns and association patterns of the dolphin groups that we encounter.

Frequently Seen Wildlife

 Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

Bottlenose dolphins are found throughout the world's oceans (except for extreme polar latitudes) and are frequent visitors to the Marlborough Sounds all year long.  These dolphins move into the Sounds in large social groups, consisting of groups ranging from 2 - 60 individuals!  The bottlenose dolphins are always a great sight, as they are quite social and acrobatic and always put on a good show.

 Dusky dolphin

Dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)

Dusky dolphins are only found in the southern hemisphere.  Dusky dolphins utilise the Marlborough Sounds to feed cooperatively in small groups during the autumn, winter and spring.  This mid-size dolphin moves about the sounds in small groups and are also a fun species to view, as they can be quite acrobatic and perform their signature back-flips. Group sizes range from 5-500!!!

 Hector dolphin

Hector’s dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori)

This is the world’s smallest and rarest oceanic dolphin, found only in New Zealand, so is quite a treat for visitors to see!  You will be surprised at the small size of this beautiful dolphin, found year-round in groups of 5-15 throughout the summer. The South Island population of Hector's dolphins numbers around 7,000 individuals, while the North Island Hector's (Maui dolphin) is believed to contain only 100 individuals.

 Common dolphin

Common dolphins (Delphinus delphis)

Common dolphins will occasionally wander into the sheltered waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound in small groups of around 10 and are found in Cook Strait in groups sometimes numbering 50-500 or more! Common dolphins are quite distinctive with their yellow-coloured patch on their sides and are quite fond of bow-riding or slipping into the stern wake of our vessel!

 Orca killer whales

Orca or killer whales (Orcinus orca)

Orca, actually the largest of the dolphin species, are an amazing sight to see!  As with the bottlenose dolphins, we never know exactly when they will visit or for how long they will stay.  When the orca are in, they are generally very busy feeding on skates and rays near the bottom.  There's only approximately 200 orca around New Zealand and our photoID records show some of the same individuals moving between here and the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland! This photgraph is taken with a zoom lens.

 New Zealand fur seals

New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri)

The often playful fur seals are welcome addition to the ecotour. Although a large colony of New Zealand fur seals is located outside of Queen Charlotte Sound, we still get many male seals that choose to take advantage of various food sources in the Sounds. 


Very Rare Wildlife Visitors

 Humpback whale

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Humpback whales are a baleen whale seen off New Zealand are migrating from their Antarctica feeding grounds north through Cook Strait and towards their breeding grounds in Australia, Tonga and New Caledonia.  Humpbacks are amazing to see and are one of the most 'aerial' of the large whales.  These whales feed using baleen to filter out krill and small fish.  We are fortunate enough to be a primary sponsor and participant of the Cook Strait Humpback Whale Survey - a study designed to see how these whales are coming back after whaling nearly decimated them. This photgraph is taken with a zoom lens.

 Southern right whales

Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis)

Southern right whales are a rare sight indeed.  They once numbered in their hundreds until large-scale whaling depleted their numbers.  Right whales are easily identified by their colosities (growths) on their head and individuals can be identified by the specific pattern that these growths make - much like a human fingerprint.  Like the humpbacks, right whales are baleen whales and strain their tiny prey like krill from the water column. This photgraph is taken with a zoom lens.

 Pygmy blue whales

Pygmy Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda)

Pygmy blue whales are also an extremely rare sight around New Zealand.  Also a baleen whale, we've only seen these whales out in open ocean Cook Strait waters during the Cook Strait Humpback Whale Survey and they always appear to be either feeding or traveling.  Pygmy blue whales are a subspecies of their larger blue whale cousins - hence the name. This photgraph is taken with a zoom lens.


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