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New Zealand - Whale watching

Whole day Kaikoura

Tuesday 2nd February 2016 Whale Watch and Kaikoura walks

We parked our car in the Whaleway car park, then headed back along the beach to the Why Not cafe for a coffee until 10 am. It was then time to check in for our Whale Watch. We sat outside for a while before heading to the Briefing Room for a short video about the deep trench in Kaikoura (which is what attracts the whales) and a safety briefing. Then we all boarded the bus to drive around to South Bay where we caught our catamaran. It quickly whizzed out to sea where the Whale Watcher could see the most probable area.
dolphins-and-pilot-whales-kaikoura_49919891572_o.jpg It was not more than 5 minutes after arriving that our first Sperm Whale emerged. We had a good long time to watch him (and all the Sperm Whales in the area at the time were male as the females were elsewhere calving) before he flipped his tail and drove. The watcher seemed to know exactly when he would dive. Then the watcher saw some activity elsewhere and it was a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins, as well as Dusky Dolphins and nearby a pod of Pilot Whales (which are actually dolphins). They frolicked around us for 20 minutes or so before we left them as the watcher had spotted another Sperm Whale. Again we had a good long time to look before he left, tail flipping. Motoring along we saw a number of seabirds, and were lucky enough to see a rare Wandering Albatross. Our on-board guide explained the differences between Albatross and Mollymawks (same family). The watcher wanted a quick check of the whale activity before we left so he popped in a sonar and was really pleased to find a 3rd Sperm Whale. The previous two were known (and named) whales, but this one, who shortly surfaced, was new. He was quite different to the previous two, especially in his fin shape. The two sharks we had seen made themselves scarce very quickly. When he left we started to head back to port and were again lucky as several albatrosses were around, including the largest- Wandering Albatross, as well as quite a few other birds. A very informative video on the return showed us the birds of the area, the difference between toothed and non-toothed whales as well as the geologic history of the area. Originally this was a river valley, but due to tectonic movement (it is on the Hope fault line) it has become a submarine canyon (Kaikoura Canyon) situated 500 metres off the coast to the south-east of the peninsula. It is 60 km long, 5km wide, 1600 m+ deep, and is generally U-shaped. It is an active canyon that on the edge of a continental shelf plunges 1000m in a near vertical cliff into a deep-ocean channel system of that meanders for hundreds of kilometres across the deep ocean floor. It is one of a few rare places where the deep ocean is so close to land. This deep ocean channel, the Hikurangi Trough, stretches 1700km past North Island and into the Pacific.
Did you know that a toothed whale has large teeth but a tiny tongue, while a baleen whale has tiny “teeth” and a huge tongue. The heart of a Blue Whale in the same size as a VW Beetle!

whale-1-kaikoura_49919767197_o.jpgwhale-1-kaikoura_49918951518_o.jpg Our first whale
Whale Watch Kaikoura is New Zealand's only marine whale watching company, offering exciting up-close encounters with the Giant Sperm Whale. Every Whale Watch tour is unique and sightings vary. Giant Sperm Whales are the stars of the show and year round residents, but you may encounter pods of Dusky Dolphins, the endangered Wandering Albatross, migrating Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales. Kaikoura has the world's largest dolphin, the Orca, and the world's smallest and rarest, the Hector’s.

Sperm whales are easily recognised by their massive heads and prominent rounded foreheads. They have the largest brain of any creature on Earth. Their heads also hold large quantities of a substance called spermaceti, so called because whalers believed the oily fluid was sperm. Scientists still do not understand the function of spermaceti. One theory is that the fluid, which hardens to wax when cold, helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep. Sperm whales dive to 1,000 m in search of squid to eat, holding their breath for up to 90 minutes. These toothed whales eat about one ton (907 kg) of fish and squid per day. Sperm whales pods comprise 15 to 20, mainly females and young, as males roam solo or move from group to group. Females and calves remain in subtropical waters all year, but males migrate to higher latitudes, and head back towards the equator to breed. Driven by their tale fluke, 5m from tip to tip, they cruise the oceans at around 37 kph. Sperm whales are very vocal and emit a series of "clangs" for communication or echolocation. The pitch/ frequency of their sound varies depending on what they are doing (hunting, navigating, social). Sperm whales were mainstays of whaling's 18th and 19th century heyday.
whale-2-kaikoura_49919008658_o.jpgwhale-2-kaikoura_49919002368_o.jpg Our second whale
A mythical albino sperm whale was immortalised in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, though Ahab's nemesis was based on a real whale called Mocha Dick. The animals were targeted for oil and ambergris, a substance that forms around squid beaks in a whale's stomach. Ambergris was (and remains) a very valuable substance once used in perfumes. Despite whaling depredations, sperm whales are still fairly numerous. Every whale has a unique fin and tail (the tail of Whale 2 and fin of Whale 3 are below), and can therefore be individually identified. This is why our whale watcher knew the names of two of the whales and recognised that the third whale was an unnamed newcomer. They grow 15 to 18 m and weigh 35 to 45 tons. Sperm whales and giant squid may be mortal enemies. Evidence of battles between these two massive animals exists; sperm whales with suction cup-shaped wounds and remnants of giant squid in their stomachs (though their lack of functional biting teeth makes it difficult to understand how). Sperm whales have small paddle shaped fins used for steering into the water and large flukes to propel themselves. Unlike other whales sperm whales do not have a dorsal fin, but instead several small bumps on the back with one larger hump resembling a dorsal fin. The standard diet for sperm whales is squid, octopus and fish. Due to their deep diving behaviour it has been difficult to gather information on their particular hunting methods or exact foods. In order to obtain enough calories to maintain their energy and blubber supply an adult sperm whale must eat up to 3% of its body weight per day. In addition to hunting large squid sperm whales possibly prey on megamouth sharks. One study found 3 sperm whales attacking a megamouth shark. Sperm whales have 40 – 46 teeth in their lower jaw with the teeth on the upper jaw rarely breaking through the gum, thus making them useless for hunting/capturing food. Even with teeth sperm whales commonly swallow their food without biting or tearing and it seems their teeth are not necessary for survival. In fact sperm whales that have lost their teeth or have deformed jaws have perfectly normal diets.
One theory as to why sperm whales have teeth, but do not use them when hunting is evolution. As sperm whales evolved they developed new hunting methods that did not require teeth, so over millions of years their teeth became less developed while other physiological components improved to help these marine mammals survive. As they breathe air, sperm whales need to surface. They then blow excess water from their blowhole (which interestingly is NOT on the top of the head but somewhat to one side), followed by a number of blows becoming more rapid as it prepares to dive (which is how the whale watchers know it's about to go). Kaikoura is home to the main New Zealand population of sperm whales, resident and transient. There is no other area in the world where they are routinely found so close to the coast. In any one season there are around 85 sperm whales present here, mostly male.
whale-3-kaikoura_49919496351_o.jpgwhale-3-kaikoura_49919808742_o.jpgOur third whale

Toothed whales (Cetacea) include sperm whales, beaked whales, dolphins, and porpoises. As the name suggests, the order is characterised by the presence of teeth rather than baleen. They are thought to have split from baleen whales (Mysticeti) 34 million years ago. Whales and dolphins closest living relatives are the hippopotami which diverged 40 million years ago. Baleen whales are a widely distributed diverse order of carnivorous marine mammals comprising Balaenidae (right whales, blue whales), Balaenopteridae (rorqual), Eschrichtiidae (grey whale), and Cetotheriidae (pygmy right whale). The Blue whale is the largest living creature, and possibly the heaviest ever. Baleen whales have streamlined large bodies and two limbs modified into flippers. They use their plates to filter food from the water by lunge- or gulp-feeding. Baleen whales have fused neck vertebrae, and are unable to turn their head. They have two blowholes and are adapted for diving to great depths. Dolphin is often used as a synonym for bottlenose dolphin, the most common species of dolphin. There are six species of dolphins incorrectly called whales; killer whale, melon-headed whale, pygmy killer whale, false killer whale, and two species of pilot whales. Though dolphin and porpoise are sometimes used interchangeably, porpoises belong to the family Phocoenidae, but share a common ancestor with the Delphinidae.

Whale evolution (because I find this interesting)
Whales closest relative is a hippo, but even they diverged before the Eocene. The earliest identifiable whale ancestor was the Pakicetus, a land animal, who evolved to the Ambulocetus , a water-edge creature occupying a niche similar to modern crocodiles.
From this whales and dolphins started to evolve their own groups, developing blowholes, changing limbs to flippers, etc. Rodhocetus. The change from tail to fluke was one of the last developments, as in Protocetus.

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have a short beak and prominent dorsal fin. They are dark or light grey on the back grading to white on the underside. Bottlenose dolphins are particularly susceptible to human impact due to their coastal nature. They are widely distributed throughout the world in temperate and tropical seas and do not range poleward of 45° in either hemisphere. New Zealand is therefore at the southernmost point of their range. Limits to the range of this species appear to be temperature related. Population densities are higher close to shore, where these dolphins tend to travel in groups of about 30 individuals. Individuals living close to the shore feed primarily on bottom-dwelling fish and invertebrates. Those offshore feed on mid-water fish species and oceanic squid.
Dives rarely last longer than 3-4 minutes inshore, but may be longer offshore. Individual feeding appears to be the most prevalent foraging method but individuals are known to work together to herd schools of fish (called kettling). Females tend to reach sexual maturity before males, leading to sexual dimorphism in some regions. Females breed every 3-5 years and calves suckle for 2-3 years. Female bottlenose dolphins can live to more than 50, and males to 40-45 years. In New Zealand three main coastal populations exist: 450 individuals in the Bay of Islands, 63 in Doubtful Sound, Fiordland and a east coast group ranging from Marlborough Sounds to Westport. Bottlenose dolphins are commonly associated with other cetaceans including pilot whales, rough-toothed and Risso’s dolphins, humpback whales. Sharks are the most important predators of bottlenose dolphins with the numerous shark-bite scars on as many as half of all bottlenose dolphins.

Dusky Dolphins Kaikoura's resident dolphin is the dusky dolphin. The dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) appears all year round, with a variation of movements and habits between summer and winter. In the summer months of October to April, the duskies move in from offshore on a daily basis to the inshore waters on the southern side of the Kaikoura Peninsula. Maximum size is 195cm in New Zealand and they weigh 60 to 90 kg in weight. Life span of the dusky dolphin is 20 to 25 years. Dusky dolphins are very gregarious and highly social, living together in pods, which in the Kaikoura region can consist of 100 to 1,000 individuals. For this reason, Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best places in the world to regularly encounter wild dolphins in their natural state. The dusky dolphins are amongst the most acrobatic of the dolphin species and their spectacular leaps, jumps, side slaps and back flips, are witness to their wild and free behaviour. One of the most spectacular leaps performed by the duskies is its trademark somersault and the duskies will often repeat these acrobatic leaps time and again. A common question is why they do these leaps and jumps, to which we can only answer that in the case of the dusky dolphins, it simply reflects their exuberance and personality and as is the case with many of the animals in the wild, such behaviour is merely practicing those manoeuvres played out in more serious endeavours such as seeking out and catching prey. Duskies appear at times to mate for fun, rather than breeding.

Pilot Whales (actually dolphin family) are dark black/ grey. There are two species of Pilot whales, long finned and short finned, but it is hard to tell them apart. Most Pilot whales in NZ are long-finned. These dolphins are very large; only the killer whale (also a dolphin) is bigger. Males are 25 feet and 3 tons, while females weigh 11⁄2 tons and up to 16 feet. Pilot Whales tend to stick to deeper waters. They are highly intelligent social creatures. They often form groups of more than 100. From time to time large groups beach. It is believed this is due to an infestation of parasites that affects their ability to stay on course. Pilot Whale eat squid, octopus, herring, and various small fish, though they tend to prefer squid if it is readily available. They eat about 70 pounds of food daily which is little compared to other types of dolphins their size. Observation of Pilot Whales indicates they work together to get the food they want. Using a type of high pitched whistle, they create a circle that seems to mesmerize the prey and then they can consume it with ease. While Pilot whales are in the dolphin family, they are treated as whales for Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992. They were named pilot whales because it was thought that each pod followed a ‘pilot’ in the group. Pilot whales are dark grey. Their dorsal fins are sloping and rounded like the shape of a breaking wave. Males grow to 6m and females to 5m. Pilot whales prefer topographically steep areas, such as submerged banks and the edge of the continental shelf.
They live in family groups, and offspring of both sexes stay with their mother's pod throughout their lives, apart from a few months when males visit another pod for mating in spring or summer. Each pod numbers 20-100 whales, though they can congregate in larger numbers. Very little is known about the life history of long-finned pilot whales. Long-finned pilot whales in New Zealand waters mainly eat arrow squid and octopus. Pilot whales are prolific stranders, and this behaviour is not well understood. There are recordings of individual strandings all over New Zealand, and there are a few mass stranding "hotspots". The biggest recorded pilot whale stranding was 1,000 whales at the Chatham Islands in 1918. Most scientists believe that individual whales strand because they are dying. Mass strandings are more contentious, and there are numerous theories. The most likely is that pilot whales' echolocation is not well suited to shallow, gently sloping waters, because they generally prefer high relief areas such as the edge of the continental shelf, which would explain why most mass strandings happen in summer, when they follow food sources inshore. Another theory points to pilot whales' highly sociable behaviour – when one whale loses its way and strands, its pod mates swim to its aid. A theory that parasites affect the nervous systems of pilot whales is not well supported.
We finished our Whale watching trip at 2pm and strolled back along the main shopping street. We decided on a Seafood platter for lunch outside at The Sonic http://www.thesonic.co.nz. Steve has a HUGE beer which I shared a little of.

As we had plenty of time still available we decided to drive to the seal colony at Point Kean (pic 1), which was a low tide and easily walkable. At low tide the flat rocks become walkable, so we beganto walk seaward towards the seal colony. We could just see them, but were aware that the tide was heading in so we returned to the shore proper. Spotted shags are common along the Kaikoura coast, and we saw plenty of them on rocks near the road to Point Kean. Other birds are little shags, white-fronted terns and black-backed gulls. The large area of rock exposed at Point Kean at low tide was is a good place to see banded dotterels, variable oystercatchers, ruddy turnstones and the occasional wandering tattler. Having had a walk and seen the tide begin to come in, we choose to do the half of the Peninsula walkway that we had missed yesterday. The headland was a great vantage point for a bit of sea watching. This was a steep climb up to the first lookout point, then a walk along to Whalers Bay (pic 3) and the Sugarloaf. We passed two red-billed gull colonies, with loads of birds. As we looked we could see great shoals of fish obviously being herded, presumably by dolphins.
We had a good dinner for me (huge scallops) and disappointing for Steve (whitebait) at Strawberry Tree and then headed across the road for a cake at Why Not cafe. After a rest we drove back towards Point Kean as there was hardly any light pollution and we had a good view of the Milky Way.large_kaikoura_49919724892_o.jpg

Posted by PetersF 05:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunset beach island south seal dolphin kaikoura whale pilot sperm

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