New Zealand marine wildlife

New Zealand is regarded as one of the most accessible places to view unique inhabitants of the sea.

New Zealand’s geographical makeup as a slice of land surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean means its waters are home to some of the world’s most unique marine wildlife.


Kaikoura, on the South Island’s East Coast, is the marine tourism capital of the country. Head there for the chance to spot unique marine wildlife including the monumental Giant Sperm Whale, the world’s largest predator. Remarkably Giant Sperm Whales are equivalent in size to four elephants. Interestingly Sperm whales have the largest head proportionally of any animal and were given their name because of tank in their heads which contains white waxy oil that early whalers mistook for sperm.

Humpback whales migrate from Antarctic to warmer climes during winter to mate and procreate. They can be seen in Kaikoura over the winter months. If you’re lucky you may even catch a free show – humpback whales are known to show off their spectacular acrobatic skills, such as breaching and slapping the water.


Kaikoura is also the ideal place to see seals up close and personal. Now a protected species, you can spot seals from a number of points along Kaikoura’s coastal road. Seals are often cheeky and keen to pose - you'll be sure to get some great photo opportunities. A short walk from Kaikoura township fur seals with their pups can be viewed at Point Keen on the Peninsula.


Akaroa Harbour is home to the rarest and smallest dolphin in the world, the Hector’s dolphin. As well as dolphin watching from the boat, Black Cat Cruises offer the unique experience of swimming with these friendly creatures in their natural habitat.

Sea birds

New Zealand waters also attract a variety of birds mostly seen by the sea. One extremely endangered variety of bird commonly seen by the water is the albatross. The Royal Albatross Centre located at Taiaroa Head on the tip of Otago Peninsula near Dunedin is a nature reserve and breeding ground for Northern Royal Albatrosse. The Centre is the only mainland place in the world to view these amazing birds in their natural habitat. Kaikoura is another spot to view albatrosse, with as many as 13 varieties of albatrosse having been seen in the area. The wandering albatross has a wing span of up to 4.3 metres - the largest wing span of any living bird.
Penguins are also residents of the waters around Kaikoura, with as many as 4 varieties - Chinstrap, Fiordland Crested, Yellow-eyed and Blue – having been spotted in the area.

The largest colony of Little Penguins in New Zealand can be found in Pohatu Bay, near Akaroa. These white-flippered creatures are protected and only guided tours are permitted to venture near the colony. The best time to view the penguins is between August and January during their breeding season. Check out Pohatu Penguins for more information. You may even have the extra treat of spotting Yellow-Eyed penguins during your tour.