New Zealand

5th November - 4th December 2005

Kaikoura Headland & Whale-watching Trip

Sperm Whales are present all year round at Kaikoura and are the only species that can be practically guaranteed. Killer Whales are also seen fairly regularly (but not on my trip), and a staggering 60% of the world's whale species have been seen in the area at one time or another so anything could turn up if you are lucky.

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Sperm Whales are the largest predators on the planet, the males reaching lengths of over 18m and weighing over 55 tonnes. However, only a tiny proportion of this huge bulk is visible from the surface and the best way to spot whales from a boat is to look for the water spout created when they exhale...

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

When feeding, the whales are typically only on the surface for about 10 minutes before diving down to the abyssal depths again. At Kaikoura, they feed at depths of around 1000m, but they have been recorded over 3000m below the surface! These deep dives last for about 45 minutes so the viewing time on the surface can be quite limited. We were told that on a normal 3-hour tour they see 1-2 whales on the surface. The conditions were borderline for cancellation of the tour on the afternoon I went out with a 3m swell and we were extremely lucky to see a total of seven whales on the surface.

Whale-watching boat and the snow-capped peaks of the Kaikoura range.

Back on dry land, there is an easily accessible mixed colony of White-fronted Terns and Red-billed Gulls on the Kaikoura headland.

White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)

Red-billed Gull (Larus scopulinus) chick

Red-billed Gulls (Larus scopulinus) displaying

The albatross I saw least frequently was the Black-browed. Only 2 immatures...

Pied Shag (Phalacrocorax varius)

Just off-shore, on a rocky islet, there is a small colony of New Zealand Fur Seals.

New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri)

New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri)

New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) eating an octopus

Kaikoura Pelagics New Zealand map St. Anne's Lagoon