Bay of Islands Dolphins

Dolphins in the Bay of Islands

While on our tour we are most likely to spot the bottlenose dolphin or the common dolphin and sometimes orca.

What we need you to know about our wild dolphins!

First, they are completely wild, we do not feed then, train them, nor are they in one place, they are constantly moving, and we never know where they might be.

They do not just live here in the bay of islands, their home range is from the top of New Zealand right down to Tauranga, over 500 miles. They can be anywhere along the northern east coast of New Zealand.

But the Bay of Islands is an important area for the Bottlenose dolphins and they do come here a lot. They come here to feed, socialise and rest.

We are the only yacht that has a marine mammal permit which allows us to interact with wild dolphins, which means we have a lot of rules and regulations to comply with, all for the protection of the dolphins.

Two important rules are:

The Bay of Islands is a marine mammal sanctuary and within the Bay of Islands, there are two marine mammal safe zones, we do not go enter these zones, because the dolphins often use these zones to rest and feed. As a responsible Eco tourism operator we do not want to cause any disturbance to the dolphin in their habitat or natural behavior.

Another rule you need to know about is that we do not interact with Bottlenose dolphin before 12pm, after 12pm we can view and follow Bottlenose dolphins. All other marine mammals, common dolphins, seals, and orca we can see at any time.

These are new rules put in place by DOC to help protect the bay of islands dolphins as the Bottlenose dolphins are critically endangered and their population in the Bay is declining.

Know your Dolphins!

We protect what we love!

By supporting a wide range of research from Carino NZ we contribute to the marine mammal sightings database and in doing so, protect the marine environment of the Bay of Islands Maritime Park.

Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

IUCN Status: Least Concern, NZ Status: Nationally Endangered, Bay of Islands Status: Critically Endangered

The bottlenose dolphin earns its name from the shape of its short beak and lower jaw which looks like a smile. These dolphins are gracefully and athletic – swimming at speeds of up to 50km/h and leaping up to 5 metres in the air.

Bottlenose dolphins are also a very vocal bunch. If you listen carefully, you can hear their squeaks, clicks and whistles from the yacht.

Check out some weird bottlenose dolphin facts

Researchers use natural markings on marine mammals to recognise individuals within a population.  Individual dolphins have unique marking on their dorsal fins that allow us to identify them.  Usually found on the trailing edge of the dorsal fin (nicks and notches).

Here are a few of the Bottlenose dolphin we know by sight.

Check out these Bottlenose dolphin sounds that have been recorded of our local dolphins in the Bay of Islands, by a team of researchers.

Thanks Dr C Peters for the use.

Audio 1 – Feeding Bottlenose Dolphins

Audio 2 – Can you hear something odd on this track?

Audio 3 – How many dolphins can you hear?

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

IUCN Status – Least Concern, NZ Classification – Not Threatened

The common dolphin is easily recognised by its distinctive hourglass pattern of colors – it is one of the only tricolor dolphin species in the world.

Cool Facts:

  • These sleek, streamlined dolphins can travel at over 30km per hour.
  • They likely to approach our vessel in large pods – up to 100 individual dolphins
  • They are called common dolphins as they have been sighted in every ocean and most seas.
  • They are a small species of dolphin, growing to around 2.5m and a weight of 200kg.
  • There are several species of common dolphins, in New Zealand, the ones we see are the short-beaked common dolphin.
  • We see the common dolphin mostly in September to December.

Orca/Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

IUCN Status: Data Deficient, New Zealand Classification: Nationally Critical

A small population of less than 200 animals call New Zealand home, orca visit the Bay of Islands in pods of 2 – 15 animals on average.

Cool Orca Facts:

  • These distinctive black and white-toothed mammals are actually part of the dolphin family.
  • They can grow up to 9m in length and weigh up to 10,000kg (males)
  • They can sometimes be seen close to shore hunting tasty stingrays or sharks.
  • They are extremely fast swimmers and have been recorded at speeds of up to 54kph
  • A wild orca pod can cover over 160 kilometres a day
  • There is an estimated 50 000 orcas in the oceans today

Pilot Whales – Long and short finned.( Globicephala. (G. melas) (G. macrorhynchus).

Pilot whales are actually the second-largest dolphin in the world.

Pilot Whale Facts:

  • Pilot whales are known for their jet black or dark grey or white markings on their throat, belly and sometimes behind its dorsal fin and eye.
  • They are very social family animals and can travel in pods of up to a hundred at a time and at times oceanic bottlenose dolphins can be seen traveling with them.
  • They were named pilot whales because it was thought that each pod followed a ‘pilot’ in the group.
  • Pilot whales are prolific stranders, and this behaviour is not well understood.