Marine Mammal Spotlight - Humpback Whale

Over the weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to view a humpback whale on our tours. Our guests were treated to this whale breaching as well which is always wonderful to see. With this in mind I thought it would be good opportunity to provide you with some great information about these beautiful creatures – enjoy!

Amazing flip from Humpback whale at Kaikōura, New Zealand

The humpback whale is one of the most easily recognised whale species. Known for their large flippers (which can be up to one-third of their body size), and the hump on their backs. Their colouring is anywhere from a grey to black colour and have white markings on their underbelly. These markings are differing in every whale, being like fingerprints, allowing researchers to identify individuals.

 Humpback whale flipper

Humpback whales hunt and feed during the summer months in the colder waters like Antarctica and then migrate to warmer tropical waters during the winter months for mating. It is around this time of the year that we are able to start to see the annual migration take place with humpback whales passing by the Kaikōura Coastline between May / June / July and August – heading up towards Australia and Tonga for the mating season.

 Humpback whale flipping at Kaikōura, New Zealand

The humpback whales diet is made up of fish and krill. They are baleen whales, meaning they are filter feeders. These whales have two parallel rows of baleen plates attached to their jaws, allowing them to filter water for the fish and krill.

 Close-up of Humpback whale flipping - Kaikōura, New Zealand

During the feeding season these humpback whales hunt using a technique known as bubble net fishing, where a group of whales will swim around its prey in a circle and blow bubbles, create loud vocal sounds or slap their large flippers against the water to stun fish into forming  into a small ball and rising to the surface where the whale can then swim up and lunge at the fish with an open mouth and engulf thousands of small fish in a single gulp using their baleen plates to separate water and from their prey.

During the mating season humpback whales will fast, living off body fat reserves and completely forgo eating.

Humpback whales breathe voluntarily, unlike human beings. Since they have to remember to breathe, researchers believe humpback whales sleep by shutting off half of their brain at a time.

These whales are known for their complex mating songs. Researchers have studied the whale songs for years, and the complexity of these songs suggests the whales are extremely intelligent creatures. Only the males are responsible for the whale songs, however, since they are primarily a mating signal. These sounds can be heard many miles away and are heard as a combination of moans, howls and cries among other noises which can go on for hours. 

Not only famous for the haunting love songs these whales are also well known for their acrobatics. They can be frequently seen leaping out of the water and sometimes can use their flukes to propel themselves completely out of the ocean – known as a breach which is something we have been witnessing today.

 Spectacular Humpback whale flip - Kaikōura, New Zealand

We are truly blessed with the amazing marine life that we can see off the Kaikōura Coastline, truly is a marine mecca.

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.