Marine Mammal Spotlight - Toothed Cetaceans

There are at least 61 species of toothed whales dolphins and porpoises, ranging from the largest 16-20m sperm whale to the smallest 1-1.2m Hector dolphin.


Hector's dolphins

Kaikoura is unique for both the sperm whale and the hector dolphin, both of which could be observed almost daily off the coastline. A total of around 9 different toothed whales and dolphins have been positively identified on more than one occasion off the Kaikoura coast which include: dusky dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, southern right whale dolphins, pilot whales, killer whales and the beaked whales, all being beautiful creatures to see in the wild.

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Pod of orca

Odontoceti’s use their teeth to seize prey such as fish or squid, which is then generally swallowed whole.  In order to locate and catch their food, the toothed whales and dolphins, like bats have developed a sonar or echolocation system, in which sounds are emitted from their heads and reflect off solid objects.  The returning echo is interpreted by the whales and dolphins and enables them to determine the size, composition, distance and direction of the object they have focused on.  The sperm whales echolocation sounds like the rhythmic clicking sounds of a clock – such as this example.


The sperm whales echolocation is what we listen out for when using our captains use our purpose built hydrophones, listening out for the rhythmic clicking sound (like the ticking of a clock) as they are in search mode of their prey or navigating their way.

In addition to their echolocation most toothed whales and dolphins have developed the ability to communicate by using clicks, whistles, squeaks, squeals and some such as the orca have even developed dialects which differ from pod to pod.

Many toothed whales and dolphins utilize these communication skills to help catch their prey and form social groups to hunt cooperatively. 

One way you can tell toothed whales & dolphins from baleen whales if by their blowholes with toothed whales and dolphins having one blowhole and baleen whales having two. Another difference being that baleen whales have a small throat and large tongue whereas the toothed whales & dolphins have a large throat and small tongue. 

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Sperm whales blowhole found on the left hand tip of his head


There have been some beautiful sunrises in Kaikōura over the past week, with more sunshine forecasted for the upcoming days too!

Out on our tours we saw semi-residential Sperm Whales Aoraki, Tutu and Tiaki feeding in the Hikurangi Trench as well as Sperm Whales new to our region. When time allowed, we were able to view NZ Fur Seals on Barney’s Rock, a rock thought to be used as a lookout point by early whalers.

This week we had only one juvenile Humpback Whale passing through our waters. It’s coming to the end of their annual migration which only means one thing, the Summer Orca season is approaching us!

We currently have an end of winter sale on at our Retail Store at the moment, a whopping 25% off all hoodies, jackets and merino items! We need to make room for new summer stock, so head over to our online store to get your hands on some winter goodies.


There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

From Tuesday, 22nd August, drivers will need to watch for 28 metre truck loads moving bridge beams to Kaikōura, via the Lewis Pass and the inland road via Waiau/Mt Lyford. The beams are for a new bridge build as well as smaller bridge sites north of Kaikōura. Some minor delays can be expected due to the length of the load and the slow and winding nature of parts of the route. These truckloads are scheduled to follow this inland route until September.

During the cooler winter months it is a good reminder to take extra care on the roads and to check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling.

Progress is continuing to be made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina, with the modified trailer and public jetty now being used for launching our vessel Tohora. This is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. All our berths have now been removed. This is an end of an era but we are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! The use of the modified trailer and public jetty will continue until further notice. It is anticipated that the Kaikōura Marina will be fully restored in October 2017. Below is a graphic (indicative only) of what is being restored at the marina.

Currently our available tour times are based around the tide times on the day and may differ from the tour times originally advertised, please bear with us as we continue to work toward being fully operational again. For an update on the tour times available, please contact our Customer Service team directly either by email on, phone +64 3 319 6767 or free phone 0800 655 121 (within NZ) and they will be able to help you with your inquiry.  Please note we are operating at a reduced capacity in the interim with up to 3 tours available per day. Please contact our team prior to arriving in Kaikōura to secure a space on one of our tours and to save disappointment. 


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 Tours & Canterbury Leisure Tours 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.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.