Marine mammals wallow in warm NZ waters
22 Dec 2010
New Zealand is famed for rare and varied marine life and coastal-loving Kiwis are being made even more aware of their special surroundings with warm summer seas bringing species closer to shore.
The earlier than normal warm weather has created conditions ideal for sharks and increased numbers, believed to be looking for food or to drop their pups, have been spotted along the sandy coastlines of the Bay of Plenty and northern part of the North Island.
As well as making the public aware of the extra shark activity, the NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) wants to tap the public resource as part of some more extensive research into marine life around coastal New Zealand.
DOC is asking people to keep an eye out for rare and endangered species like Maui’s dolphin - New Zealand’s most endangered marine mammal.
Only 111 of the tiny dolphins are believed to exist, and DOC is relying on public sightings to find out where they are.
The dorsal fin of Maui’s dolphin is shaped like Mickey Mouse’s ear and the mammals are easier to spot during summer when they come in closer to shore.
DOC’s national marine mammal co-ordinator Laura Boren is also asking people to keep an eye out for Maui’s close relatives, the Hector's dolphin and other species like the great white shark and the Pacific leathery turtle.
She says anyone who spots a rare marine animal should try to take a photo or video of it, get a GPS reading if possible, or take note of a landmark that could help conservation staff.
Whale & dolphin spotting
New Zealand is considered one of the best places in the world to get up close and personal with marine life, and many tourism specialists throughout the country run tours that guarantee sightings of whales, dolphins, seals and other popular species.
In the south, the award-winning experience with Whale Watch Kaikoura on the east coast between Christchurch and Nelson, offers exciting, up-close encounters with giant sperm whales at all times of the year. Dolphin species are also seen on a daily basis and orca (killer whales) are regular summer residents in the region.
Whale and dolphin encounters are also an option from Auckland where Explore NZ runs a safari tour on the Hauraki Gulf - considered one of the most biologically and geographically diverse marine parks in the world. Over 22 species of dolphins and whales have been seen within easy reach of Auckland city.
Whale & Dolphin Watch, operating from Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, combines the chance to view whales and swim with dolphins and seals in their natural environment - while learning about the unique Maori history and stories of the area from local guides.
The company says it sometimes encounters migrating whales and has recorded sightings of orca, finn, minke and pilot whales.
Charter companies operating in Bay of Islands, Northland also offer whale and dolphin watching / swimming cruises as well as visits to seal and penguin colonies. The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s most popular maritime parks with 144 islands and bays where a large variety of marine species are enticed by the sub tropical conditions.
Rare species to watch out for in New Zealand:
- Maui's dolphin
Only 111 Maui’s dolphins are believed to exist. They live off the North Island's west coast, grow up to 1.5m long and have a small, rounded dorsal fin that looks like a Mickey Mouse ear.
- Hector's dolphin
Around 7000 Hector’s dolphins are thought to exist. Three separate populations are found on the South Island's west, east and south coasts. They grow up to 1.5m long and have the Mickey Mouse look-alike dorsal fin.
- Pacific leathery turtle
As few as 2300 adult female leathery turtles remain in the Pacific, making it the world's most endangered marine turtle. It can reach up to 180 cm, weigh 500kg, and has a dark shell with white spots.
- Great white shark
Little is known about great white shark population size in New Zealand but it is thought to be in gradual decline. Females grow to at least 6.4m, while the males grow to 5.5m. While it is difficult to weigh such large animals, two have reportedly tipped the scales at two and a half tonnes.
Whale Watch Kaikoura
Rare Hector's dolphin caught spy hopping
Rare blue whales spotted near Auckland
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