10 July 2024

Wildlife found in and around Akaroa Harbour

This article is about what types of wildlife you may encounter when cruising with us. We have focused on the different dolphin, penguin and whale species. 


Hector´s dolphin ~ tutumairekurai

The main attraction on our  Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise is the Hector´s dolphin, one of the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. Banks Peninsula is a hotspot for these endangered creatures. Their dorsal fin is black and rounded – which is similar to Mickey Mouse’s ear! When we see them look over the bow right at the front, that is where they love to play. A part of your fare goes towards supporting these majestical creatures, with research taking place on how to maintain their natural habitat and to make sure they continue to thrive and increase in numbers.


NZ fur seal ~ Kekeno

What we also most often see on our cruise is the New Zealand fur seal. They live in colonies just outside and inside the Akaroa Heads. We see them lying on the rocks, enjoying life in the sun. The NZ fur seal has no predators around Banks Peninsula so they are thriving in numbers. They have also been protected since 1894. What makes these seals different from other seals is that they have ears!


White-flippered penguin ~ Kororā

There are 2200 White-flippered penguins that nest around Banks Peninsula. They are a blue-grey colour with a white stripe on the edge of the flipper. We see them when they are out on the water looking for food, or floating on the surface, busy preening themselves. In size, this penguin only reaches 25 cm and is therefore difficult to spot. So, put on your penguin spotting glasses when cruising with Akaroa Dolphins. You do not want to miss the smallest penguin in the world!


Bottlenose dolphin ~ Terehu

VERY RARE TO SEE This dolphin can be seen out from any New Zealand coast, but especially around the Bay of Islands, the Hauraki Gulf, Tasman Bay, Golden Bay and Fiordland. They can reach up to 4 metres  in length which is among the biggest size that the bottlenose grows.


Common dolphin ~ Aihe

VERY RARE TO SEE Also known as short-beaked common dolphin it is the most numerous dolphin species in New Zealand waters. They can form enormous schools of several thousand individuals. They are common in the Hauraki Gulf and off Northland, so it’s not often they visit us. They differ from the Hector’s dolphin as they are much larger, having a more pointy dorsal fin and different colouring.


Orca ~ Kākahi

RARE TO SEE The last few years we have experienced an increase in Orcas visiting Akaroa Harbour during the summer months. They feed on large stingrays around the rocks and cliffs. Orca is also known as “killer whale” and is not a whale at all, but the largest member of the dolphin family. The ones we get here are “residents”, which means they only feed on fish, not marine mammals. If you are VERY lucky it is possible to get an Orca and Hector’s dolphin in the same photo!    


Yellow-eyed penguin ~ Hoiho

RARE TO SEE This is the largest of the penguin species breeding on New Zealand's mainland. They are endemic and nationally endangered. There are 1700 breeding pairs in total, living in the Catlins, Otago Peninsula, North Otago, and Banks Peninsula. They reach 65 cm in length and weigh up to 5 kg. In the last few years, we have noticed a cliff ledge we pass outside the Akaroa Heads, where a couple of these penguins return annually to nest. It’s far away and sometimes difficult to spot, but during the summer months is the best time to get a glimpse of these spectacular birds.


Humpback whale ~ Paikea

RARE TO SEE If we see a Humpback whale around Akaroa Harbour it is during the winter months, as they migrate north to give birth in the warmer waters of the islands. An adult Humpback whale is 11-15 m long, whereas a  newborn is 4 - 5 m. They are characterized by a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a bumpy head.


Southern right whale ~ Tohora

RARE TO SEE A native migrant to New Zealand. This whale is mostly found around the subantarctic Islands, Auckland, and Campbell Islands. It comes close to shore, is a slow swimmer but acrobatic in the water. Growing up to 11 – 18 metres in length.

To learn more about Whale Watching in Akaroa Click Here


 To download our A3 Akaroa Harbour wildlife poster Click Here


Illustrations & Words by Emma Perrin