8 Tips for Getting that Perfect Whale Snap

Tips for capturing the perfect whale photo

Seeing a Sperm Whale for the first time can be very exciting, and also very distracting when trying to take the perfect shot! Here are our 8 tips for securing some whale memories, including the infamous whale tail snap!


When whale watching by boat, we never know what Mother Nature might throw at us in terms of the oceans swell. It’s super important to keep your photography gear secure, keep that camera strap around your neck and when you’re not getting snap happy with your phone, store it in a zipped up pocket. No one wants to be diving overboard for their dropped iPhone!


It can be tempting to overuse your zoom feature in order to make sure you get those close up shots that show all of the whales’ unique markings and scars, but sometimes this isn’t recommended. We’ve found that it can be equally as rewarding to take the long shot and then crop the photo in the editing phase to position the photo exactly how you’d like it.


A high shutter speed can sometimes be what separates those Insta worthy photos from your trash can. Many cameras now allow you to adjust the shutter speed without negatively impacting the focus and exposure.  A good rule of thumb is to never let the shutter speed get lower that 1/2000s if you want to counteract the movements of the boat and whale.


Sperm Whales are absolutely huge! They tend to be about the same length as our whale watching vessels, that’s a whopping 18 metres! Because Kaikōura is such marine mecca, often you’ll have seabirds or, on the special occasion, dolphins in proximity to the whale that you can use for size comparison. Putting people inside your shot or even holding something in front of the camera mix up your standard photos and let people gage the size.


There are specific rules about how close tour boats can get to whales. Here in Kaikōura, boats remain 50 meters away. Whales may well come closer to check out the boat, but we like to give them room to breathe and re-oxygenate without encroaching on their space.


If you’re trying to get a shot of the Sperm Whale’s spout, then count the seconds between blows so you can anticipate the next one. The blow is a noisy, single stream that rises 3-6 meters above the surface on a 45-degree angle. Sperm Whales tend to blow every 10-20 seconds or so.

Whale blowing water


If you’re looking or that iconic fluke shot, then you’ll have to be ready as this opportunity only comes round once when the Sperm Whale is diving! Flukes are usually lifted very high out of the water before a whale begins its deep dive. Our sea crew will give you verbal warning when it looks like this dive is about to occur but sometimes Sperm Whales are cheeky and don’t give us any warming, so make sure you’re ready!

Whale tail, Kaikoura NZ


Yes, there is a such thing as too many photos. And sometimes getting behind the camera means that you forget to be present in the moment and don’t quite appreciate what’s right in front of you. So make sure that you put your camera down at some point and immerse yourself in the experience of seeing these astounding mammals in their natural habitat. Breathe in the fresh air, feel the sea spray on your face and listen to the world’s biggest toothed mammal breathe in harmony with the lapping of the waves. 

Whale tail, Kaikoura NZ

We had some stunning weather over the weekend along with some great sightings on our tours. Not only were we able to see sperm whales but also the rare opportunity of seeing a pod of beaked whales pass by the Kaikōura coastline. Not a common sight at all and one that is very treasured by all when we do.

Over the weekend we also had a visit from a couple of the crew from Emirates Team New Zealand with the America’s Cup. It was great to have the opportunity to see the cup up close. Check out this video to see how the afternoon went.

The Huttons Shearwater (Tītī) are special to us in Kaikōura. Their habitat sustained considerable loss during the Nov 2016 earthquake. Please take the time to vote for them as Bird of the Year and this status will help secure the much needed funding for more research so we can plan for their future.


The highway will be open during daylight hours on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (perfect for a long weekend getaway) from 7AM to 7PM.

The highway will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for repairs to take place. 

The closure schedule is expected to remain in place until December 2017.

There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Please be aware that this week is a full closure week - Monday 16 to Friday 20 October. The road will reopen to the public midday on Friday 20 October for Labour weekend travellers. Another full week closure is scheduled for Monday 6 to Friday 10 November. 

Something worth celebrating...

Restoration work on the Kaikoura marina begun 10 months ago, and over the weekend we celebrated being able to now use berth 3 & 4. We have been using our trailer unit & the public jetty for some time now so to be able to pull up into our berths is quite an exciting feat. We still have a wee way to go but this is a HUGE step closer to being fully operational. We are very thankful for the amazing work the harbour repair crew are doing in what are at times trying conditions. We are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! We cannot thank the tireless effort that the workers have put in to get us to this stage especially in what has been trying conditions at times.

More great news…

We thank you all for your patience over the last 11 months with the changing tour times with having work in line with the tides but with being able to now use berth 3 & 4 it means that we are now back running on our original fixed tour timetable. 0715, 1000, 1245 & 1530 (Nov-Mar)


Kaikōura is open for business. For latest updates on accommodation, restaurant and retail information please contact the team at the Kaikōura I-Site who will be able to help you find what suits your needs during your stay in Kaikōura. 


Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch, as well as Kiwi Experience now having the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers.

Progress on the work being done on roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on this dedicated KAIKOURA EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE page provided by the team at NZTA. This page is updated weekly on Friday. Work is also starting to take place on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

11 months on and we are starting to see some real progress – the teams out on the road, rail and the marina are all doing such an amazing job for which we are so thankful. And, we cannot thank you all enough for your continual support.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura