Marine Birds

Hutton’s shearwater/tītī is the only New Zealand seabird that breeds in a sub-alpine environment. The species is nationally endangered, with its two remaining breeding colonies located in the Seaward Kaikōura Mountain’s.

Kaikōura marine birds, Hutton Shearwaters.

Hutton’s shearwater/tītī were first described in 1912 but it was not until 1965 that their Seaward Kaikōura mountain breeding grounds were re-discovered by Geoff Harrow, an amateur Christchurch ornithologist. 

The adult population of Hutton’s shearwater is around 460,000, but the species is classified as ‘nationally endangered’ because of its rapid rate of decline.

About the size of a common red-billed seagull, Hutton’s shearwater are thought to live for about 30 years.

Birds arrive at their colony from Australian coastal waters in late August onwards then spend about two months competing for burrows and mates.  The male and female take turns to incubate the single egg, laid in a burrow up to three metres long between late October and late November. Incubation takes about 50 days.

Each day adult birds travel approximately 20 kilometres to the sea, to eat fish and krill which are later fed to their young.  On their downhill flight they travel at up to 154 km/h, reaching the ocean in as little as seven minutes. The return trip takes around 38 minutes, with 1200 metres or more in altitude to be gained with a bellyful of fish.

When the young fledge in March and April, they migrate with other Hutton’s shearwater to fish-rich waters off the Australian coast. Young birds stay there for three or four years then return to Kaikōura to breed at five to six years old.

Other Shearwaters

Six species of Shearwaters can be seen aboard Whale Watch tours and around the Kaikōura Coast. Species including the Bullers Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater and the Fluttering Shearwater.

Quick facts:


Of the 14 varieties of Petrels that visit Kaikōura, the largest is the fierce-looking Southern Giant Petrel and the smallest the tiny Common Diving Petrel that can weigh as little as 130 grams. Petrels are famous for their ability to 'swim' under water after prey - some diving to depths of 10 metres or more.

Kaikōura marine birds, Cape Petrel.

Petrels are scavengers commonly seen on Whale Watch tours as they like to hang around whales, dolphins and seals to grab food scraps brought to the surface. The Southern Giant Petrel has also been observed killing and eating smaller seabirds.

Examples of some petrel species you may come across on a whale watching tour:


At almost 4 metres the Wandering Albatross has the greatest wingspan of any living bird. They are a spectacular and frequent sight on Whale Watch tours. Although extremely endangered, 13 varieties of albatross, including the magnificent Salvin's Albatross, are attracted to the waters of Kaikōura where they can sometimes be seen scavenging large chunks of squid brought to the surface by Sperm Whales.

Tens of thousands of albatross are killed each year by the longline fishing industry. As surface feeders, the birds swallow the baited hooks before they have time to sink.

Kaikōura marine birds. A royal albatross skimming the surface of the ocean water

Quick Facts:


Mollymawks, are considerably smaller than the great albatrosses. Of the world’s nine species, only two do not breed in New Zealand.

Kaikōura marine birds, Mollymawk.

Most mollymawks breed annually, laying one egg on a pedestal nest if enough soil is available. Mollymawk colonies are densely packed, usually located on elevated cliff platforms above the sea from where they can launch themselves readily.

Some examples of the mollymawks that we get to see from time to time include: Shy, Salvins, Black browed and the Bullers Mollymawk.

Quick Facts:


Four varieties of penguin have been spotted around Kaikōura by Whale Watch crew - the Chinstrap Penguin, the Fiordland Crested Penguin, the Yellow-eyed Penguin and the Blue Penguin. Yellow-Eyed and Blue Penguins are the more commonly seen species.

Kaikōura marine birds, Blue Penguin.

Yellow-Eyed Penguins (pictured) have been found sitting on the breakwater at the Whale Watch marina. They are endangered species of penguin so it is definitely a treat for all when we come across them on one of our tours.

Hoiho is the Maori name for the Yellow-Eyed penguin, an endangered and protected species native to New Zealand. Hoiho means 'noisy shouter' - the penguin's piercing call can be heard over the roar of waves crashing on rocks.

The Little Blue Penguin is known by many different names such as blue penguin, little penguin, little blue penguin and is more commonly known as fairy penguins in Australia. It is the world’s smallest penguin measuring around 25cm tall and only 1-1.5kg in weight.

A small breeding colony exists near the Kaikōura Coastguard building at South Bay, Kaikōura. Artificial burrows have been installed underneath the building whilst other penguins breed in the surrounding area.

We had it all over the weekend – sunshine, wild wind, sleet, warmth, cold and beautiful new snow on the Kaikoura ranges. Despite the conditions over the weekend in the days leading up we had some great tours with sightings of semi-resident sperm whales Manu and Tiaki and hen time allowed we also saw dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, NZ fur seals and marine birds.

The most recent update on State Highway 1 South from Kaikoura is that it is expected to remain closed till the end of May to allow the construction of a temporary road and rail alignment around the base of the large landslide that came down during April’s heavy rain at Easter. Please allow extra time as you travel through Inland Route 70 which remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

As we enter into 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 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 restored by October 2017.

Dredging of the outer channel of the Kaikōura marina is well advanced.

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 & 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.

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

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.