Kaikoura whale watching

An incredible encounter with whales.

New Zealand is on a major whale highway, and we took this opportunity to get out and see some whales.  In our 3-hour tour of the deep waters just off the coast of Kaikoura, on the east coast of the South Island [location], we had four sperm-whale sightings. Twice we spotted a local resident, whose name escapes me, and twice we spotted different non-resident sperm whales. Read on and check out the photo gallery!

Tutu (the resident whale). Kaikoura whale watching, New Zealand.

These fellows (and all the whales here are males) are impressive to see, despite the fact that we can only see a tiny fraction of them above the water. They rest on the surface for 30 minutes, or so, between dives deep into the offshore trench to feed. They can dive over 1000 meters in search of squid, fish, and even sharks, which they swallow whole.  Because of the intense pressure and cold, their lungs are designed to collapse and most of their bodily functions shut down during a dive. On the surface, they breath to efficiently exchange their accumulated CO2 for new oxygen, and digest what they’ve eaten.

John, Mara, and Andy on the lookout for whales. Kaikoura whale watching, New Zealand.

When they’re ready to dive again, they arch their back and their tail glides up and out of the water in a graceful curve before plunging back in their nearly vertical dive.  I snapped nearly 400 photos and caught some gorgeous shots of the dives.

Tutu (the resident whale). Kaikoura whale watching, New Zealand.

While the whales dove we took a side-trip to visit a rocky island with NZ fur seals basking on the beaches.  They too were resting and sleeping before they head back out to feed. They stay at sea, hunting for food, for several days at a time.  We also saw many shags, a NZ seabird, and several varieties of albatross.

An albatross skims the water. Kaikoura whale watching, New Zealand.

All in all a successful and fascinating expedition.  See the photo gallery!


This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2021, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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