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


Autumn is such a beautiful time of the year with not just the stunning colours that come with this season but also the calm days we can get out at sea along with fantastic sightings. We were able to see sperm whales, pilot whales, a humpback whale and various species of dolphins as well as NZ fur seals and marine birds out on our tours last week.

Progress is being made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina and we continue to switch between using a berth and our modified trailer unit for launching our vessel Tohorā, when and where possible we are also making use of the public jetty that we have modified, this is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. It is anticipated that the Kaikōura Marina will be fully operational by the middle of this year.

Dredging of the Coastguard channel has begun with specialised equipment that arrived in Kaikōura over the weekend.

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 or 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 Business Update:

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.

Transport Update:

All subject to weather conditions, slips, repair work and seismic activity. Updates available from the NZTA WEBSITE.

Intercity & Hasslefree 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.

Please consider taking the time to visit Kaikōura, your support is most welcome.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.