Top 7 questions about whale and dolphin watching in Auckland

New Zealand is teeming with marine life. Did you know that you don’t have to leave the country's biggest city, Auckland, to see both whales and dolphins?

1. Can you really see whales and dolphins from Auckland city?

Absolutely! Over 1/3 of all marine mammals (that’s whales, dolphins and seals) that are known to exist have been seen in Auckland’s east coast waters in a special area known as the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is FULL of food which is why we can see these incredible creatures so close to the city!


2. Can you see them outside of migration season?

Absolutely! The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is the home for both common dolphins and Bryde’s whales all year round. Bottlenose dolphins and killer whales/orca pass through the area throughout the year too. During migration season (start and end of Winter) there are chances to see migratory species of whales such as the humpback whales, blue whales and southern right whales. In the summer there are chances to also see more tropical and oceanic species such as pilot whales and false killer whales!


3. Is it better to see them in the summer when it is sunny and warm?

Whales and dolphins are mammals so they have to come to the water surface to breathe every couple of minutes. You can see them in all kinds of weather and throughout the year in Auckland! In the spring and summer, the water temperatures are warmer so the animals tend to spend more time socialising and relaxing which means you can see them interacting and playing together. In the winter, the water temperatures are colder so both the dolphins and whales feed more to keep warm. This makes for some pretty impressive feeding displays!


4. When during the trip do you usually find the animals?

That is anybody’s guess! The great thing about the open ocean is that the whales and dolphins do not stay in one place all day, every day - they have the freedom to move to search for their food and move around. Sometimes bottlenose dolphins and killer whales can be seen in the shallow waters of the Waitematā harbour whilst other species such as common dolphins and Bryde’s whales are seen in deeper water.


5. What is it that makes the whales and dolphins in Auckland unique?

Auckland is one of the few places in the world (and it is the only place in New Zealand) where you can see a resident species of baleen whale. The Bryde’s whale (a relative of the blue whale) does not travel long distances/migrate and so they are seen year-round in the Hauraki Gulf. This is unlike other species like the humpback whale which only pass through whale-watching areas at certain times of the year. The Bryde's whale is also an endangered species so it is a fantastic opportunity and privilege to seem. The common dolphins are an ocean species of dolphin. This means they are usually only seen in deep water out in the open ocean. However, they are seen in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park on a very regular basis. Bottlenose dolphins and orca/killer whales sheer size and power makes them undoubtedly impressive and always a treat to see!


6. How come the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is so special?

It is one of the most highly biologically productive areas in New Zealand which means that there is a lot of food for all the marine life here (from the fish, to sea birds to the whales and dolphins!). It is also a shallow area with a maximum depth of approximately 50 metres. This means there are great chances to see the Bryde's whales in particular, who adapt their diving behaviour due to the depth of this water. These whales come to the surface two or three times to breathe before diving on a 'deep' dive. This dive lasts up to 5 minutes in the Hauraki Gulf before the whales resurface again!


7. Can we feed or pet the animals?

The marine life here are 100% wild animals and they are protected by important laws and regulations. Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari are committed to helping protect the marine environment and all the animals that live in it.

The vessel is also a research platform for local university researchers to collect data for their studies. By taking researchers out with passengers on daily safaris, they can collect the much-needed data required to protect these animals.

Passengers can also learn about the importance of scientific research and conservation from the researchers and find out how they can help to better protect the environment.

The Dolphin Explorer has been doing daily trips into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park for over 17 years. In this time Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari have helped contribute to many scientific papers and PhD theses which helps better protect the animals and allows you to enjoy wildlife-watching right in Auckland's backyard!


To find out more about whale and dolphin watching tours, head to

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