22 people found this article useful

4 Super Rare Whales and Dolphins Seen in New Zealand


The rarest marine mammal sightings in New Zealand.

It’s no secret that New Zealand’s waters are teaming with life with top whale watching locations like Kaikoura in the South Island and awesome diving locations like Poor Knights Islands off the coast of the North Island. Yet there are some super rare and surprising sights seen in New Zealand’s waters.

If you spot any of the whales and dolphins listed below, which would be pretty amazing to put it mildly, then take a picture (if you can) and report your sighting to the Department of Conservation by calling 0800 DOC HOT or fill out a Marine Mammal Sighting Form online.

It is especially urgent to report sightings of Maui’s dolphins and southern right whales, as they are an endangered species. You can check out exactly how you can help the Maui’s dolphin in our Find a Maui’s Dolphin article.


1. Maui’s Dolphins

The world’s smallest dolphins are extremely rare by being down to less than 100 dolphins. Maui’s dolphins are only seen off the North Island, usually pretty close to the shoreline. They are also the only dolphin species, apart from they sub-species brothers – Hector’s dolphins –  in the South Island, with a rounded black dorsal fin, making them super easy to identify if near the North Island.

When and where to see them: Maui’s dolphins are seen up to 100 metres away from shore on the west coast of the North Island, usually between Auckland and Raglan.

2. Southern right whale/tohora

Look out for this 14-15 metre long adults and 4.5-6 metre long calves identified by white growths on their heads. These white growths, called callosities, are different between each whale, making it easier to identify individuals. Southern right whales have no dorsal fin: another aspect making them easy to identify.

When and where to see them: From the mainland, you may get the rare opportunity to spot Southern right whales from the southern end of the South Island. However, they are more common in the waters around subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands.

3. Humpback whale

New Zealand’s visitors from Antarctica, the humpback whale, grows up to 16 metres long. The coastal waters of New Zealand are part of their huge migration route of 710,000km every year between summer feeding grounds in Antarctica and winter breeding in tropical waters. You can identify a humpback whale by their black bodies, which are mostly white underneath. However, there is the exception of Migaloo, the albino humpback whale who has been spotted in New Zealand and Australia.

When and where to see them: The humpback whales’ New Zealand migration route usually lies in the Cook Strait (the waters between the North Island and South Island), as well as the east coast of New Zealand in winter and along the west coast in spring.

4. Blue whale

Yes, the world’s largest mammal has been spotted in New Zealand’s waters. No doubt you will have heard about these giants of the sea spanning more than 30 metres long. They are a grey-blue colour with a flat u-shaped head. Sightings of them are so rare that information about where exactly these blue whales hang out is pretty limited. It is believed that they travel through New Zealand waters on a migratory route.

When and where to see them: Beats us, but recent research has suggested there could be a blue whale feeding ground in the South Taranaki Bight on the west coast of the North Island.

More wildlife wonders!

Can’t get enough of that marine wildlife? Us neither! Take a look at these articles for more about whales and dolphins in New Zealand.

Working Holiday Insurance
Was this article useful? Useful Useless
HiFX - Money Transfer
South Island

15 Awesome Things to Do in Reefton

Activities you have to try in Reefton! Reefton is an intriguing town. This [...]

Cecilia Lindqvist
Water Activities

11 Stunning Sights Seen From a Milford Sound Cruise

Milford Sound’s natural attractions! Drift through one of the stupidly scenic locations, [...]


21 Travel Gadgets for Your Gap Year in New Zealand

All those clever little things… You probably won’t know you need half [...]

North Island Regions

Bay of Islands – Guide for Backpackers

The adventure is on the water! 144 islands await to be explored [...]

Popular searches: Budget, Free, Jobs, Travel Tips, Rotorua
Follow us on Twitter
Hot on Backpacker Guide

The 12 Worst Travel Advice Ever

Don’t trust anyone! Thinking of travelling to a faraway land with naught but […]

North Island Cities

Wellington City – Guide for Backpackers

Compact and creative capital city. Every backpacker passes through Wellington City at […]

North Island

10 Hawke’s Bay Must-Dos

Have fun in between seasonal jobs. The region offers a huge amount […]

FB Group
Join the group!
Join the group!

Ask questions to our writers, post notices, share with travellers, show pictures, meet other backpackers, ...

Join our Facebook group