Marine Mammal Spotlight - Orca

Orca can be found around the coast of New Zealand (including estuaries and harbours) being seen off the Kaikōura Coastline generally between the months of November – March usually at least 2-3 times a month. These majestic creatures can be found travelling in tight knit pods of between 6 – 20 individuals. Pods are usually formed for life and can result in the development of unique dialects.

Male Orca sighted at Kaikōura, New Zealand

Male Orca sighted on the 15th Feb 2017

Male & Female Orca – An adult male orca can measure between 5-9metres with a dorsal fin that reach a height of up to 2metres high whereas the adult female orca can reach a length of between 5-8metres and has a dorsal fin that is curved.

 Male orca sighted at Kaikōura, New Zealand

NZ Orca – New Zealand Orca are unique in that they specialise in hunting for sting rays and sharks (of which NZ orca have been seen taking 6 different species) but can also be seen hunting down dolphins and fish. We have experienced first-hand a pods of orca in hunting mode, hunting the likes of dolphins, to sharks, to penguins and even trying to take on a sperm whale. Orcas hunt co-operatively and are even known to intentionally strand themselves on beaches temporarily, in order to catch seals.

Orca behaviour – Often referred to as wolves of the sea, orcas live and hunt together in cooperative pods, or family groups, much like a pack of wolves. They work together as they hunt. Groups of orcas cooperate to herd fish into a compact area so that they're easier to eat.

Close-up of Orcas at Kaikōura, New Zealand  

Orca / Killer Whale – Some people call these animals Killer Whale, the name is thought to be because back in the whaling days they noticed some Orca hunt down and kill whales so they were called either killer of whales of whale killer which over time has become Killer Whale. The scientific name for the orca, or killer whale, is Orcinus orca.

Orca – whale or a dolphin? – They are in fact the largest of the dolphin family and not a ‘true’ whale (which is determined by size, shape and structure of their skull and their teeth). 

Orca ID – Every Orca looks different just like ourselves, with the Orca we can ID them by the different markings and scars they have on their bodies along with the different shaped dorsal fins they have. We can identify quite a few Orca that pass through Kaikōura’s waters during summer, some examples being A1 (was the first Orca cataloged in New Zealand,, Ragged Top, Prop, Koru, Corkscrew, and Jigsaw.

 Orca at Kaikōura, New Zealand

Fun facts

Orca jumping out of water at Kaikōura, New Zealand

Winter has bought with it some amazing scenery for our tours, with the snow-capped mountains making for a jaw-dropping background for our guests’ photos. Last week’s whale watch trips had some spectacular sightings, including Humpback Whales being spotted playing with hundreds of Dusky Dolphins on Wednesday and Thursday! We sighted four Humpbacks on our tours this week as we continue to see them stop in for a quick visit to Kaikoura on their way to breed and give birth in Northern warmer waters.

Monday and Wednesday’s tours sighted pods of up to five Sperm Whale, with tours this week also spotting semi-resident Sperm Whales Tiaki, Tutu, Saddleback, Aotearoa and Matimati feeding in the Hikurangi Trench. Each of these whales can be distinguished by the different shaped dorsal fins, tail shapes, marks and scars they have which we get a good view of when they are on top of the water oxygenating and also when they dive down to feed.

When time allowed, our tours have also seen pods of Dusky and Hector’s Dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals and various marine birds including the Shy Mollymawk and the Caspian Tern. These birds look like gulls, with dark wing tips and large red bills. In New Zealand, Caspian Terns frequent sheltered bays and harbours of the main islands, but are also seen regularly at inland lakes and rivers. As Caspian Trends don’t breed in Kaikōura, the birds seen here are likely to be from the breeding colonies at the Wairau lagoons or Lake Ellesmere.

Don’t forget, the annual photography competition for Kaikōura’s 48 Hours in Kaikoura takes place next weekend on the 5th and 6th of August so make the trip and bring your camera to capture Kaikōura’s amazing natural wonders and marine life. This year there will be new seascapes and landscapes featured for the first time since the November Earthquake which will make for some new and interesting competition. There are categories for both amateurs and professional photographers so there’s no excuse not to join in on the fun!

REGULAR, SCHEDULED CLOSURES OF STATE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH OF KAIKOURA

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.

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 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.

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 res@whalewatch.co.nz, 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.

KAIKOURA 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

IntercityHasslefree 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.