What makes this dolphin special?
Hector’s dolphins are members of the family ‘delphinidae’ – there are about 32 species of dolphins found throughout the world. The Hector’s is the smallest oceanic dolphin with female adults only reaching about 1.2 to 1.4 metres long and weighing approx. 47 kilograms, while the males are slightly smaller and weigh about 10 kilograms less. By comparison the largest of all dolphins, the huge Orca or Killer Whale, can grow up to ten metres long, and the bottle nose dolphin grow to the length of a small family car.
Where are they found?
The total population of Hector’s dolphins is somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000. Around 900 dolphins call Banks Peninsula their home and they often come into Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbour. These two places are, without doubt, the best places to view these beautiful dolphins. However, Hector’s Dolphins range right around the South Island with many being found off the South Island’s West Coast.
What do they do all day?
Hector’s dolphins of all ages spend a lot of time playing. They surf a lot at beaches when seas are quite rough. In calmer weather a favourite game is playing with bits of seaweed. The Dolphin will carry it until it falls off or until some other dolphin “steals it”. They have even been seen playing with bits of floating sticks and leaves. Hector’s are very curious and people friendly which is why they like to visit boats.
What do Hector’s eat?
A large part of the day is taken up with feeding. They use “echo-location” to find their food, sending out high frequency clicks and listening for returning echoes. The echoes can tell them how far away a fish is, what kind of fish it is and how fast it is moving. Echo-location gives dolphins a way to “see with sound” in murky waters, where eyesight isn’t much help. Hector’s dolphins on the East Coast have been found to eat mainly arrow squid, Ahuru, red cod, sole, yellow-eyed mullet, stargazer and sprat.
What can we do to help protect Hector’s Dolphins?
Firstly come for an Akaroa Harbour cruise with us to really appreciate how special the dolphins are. We’ll tell you all about them too, but there is nothing like seeing them for yourself to get a full appreciation.
Part of your ticket price goes towards dolphin research and education. Other things you can do to help the dolphins is support the Department of Conservation as they find new ways to protect the species. This includes creating more marine mammal sanctuaries where Hector’s Dolphins are safe from being killed in set nets. DOC also opposes marine mussel farms which may impact the dolphin’s habitat.
If you own your own boat, and see the Hector’s Dolphin, ask the driver to slow down to avoid turning suddenly. Do not chase the dolphins. Often, if you simply stop the boat, they will come and see you. Avoid using set nets (also called gillnets) close to shore, where the dolphins are most common. If you ever see a Hector’s Dolphin stranded on the beach, call the Department of Conservation, they would like to hear about it.