Dolphins and whales of the Hauraki Gulf
The word ‘Hauraki’ means ‘North wind’ in Maori, and the Hauraki Gulf is a 4,000 square kilometre expanse of water between Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula, and Great Barrier Island.
As well as being a stunning example of New Zealand’s scenery, the gulf is also a haven for wildlife. In fact, there are as many as 22 species of dolphins and whales that call the Hauraki Gulf home.
The most common species
Out of the many species in the area, there are three that you’ll likely see on any tour or excursion in the Hauraki Gulf; Bryde’s whales, pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins.
Bryde’s whales are special as they’re the only baleen species to inhabit warm waters closer to the equator throughout the year instead of migrating. For this reason, they’re also known as the ‘tropical whale’. These huge whales can measure up to 15-16 metres in length, and there are an unknown number of them around the world.
Pilot whales, contrary to the name, are actually dolphins, and the second largest dolphin species (after the orca) at that. If you see one, you’ll likely see many as pilot whales tend to travel in schools of 10-20, which makes for an incredible viewing experience.
Bottlenose dolphins are extremely intelligent and playful creatures, known for their curved mouths that makes them look like they’re smiling, and the fact that they can easily be trained to perform tricks. These dolphins are common throughout tropical areas and travel in groups, and are often seen following fishing boats to pick up food scraps and leftovers.
It’s also not uncommon to see Sei and Minke whales throughout the Hauraki Gulf, although they are not as common as Bryde’s and Pilot whales or bottlenose dolphins.
Every year, Humpback whales migrate south for the summer and back north again during winter where they breed in the South Pacific. During these times, it’s possible to see the whales as they stop off in the Hauraki Gulf during this long journey.
Fortunately for wildlife watchers, humpback whales travel near shorelines to feed on plankton, small fish and other sealife, and mothers and their young travel together, which makes for fantastic whale-watching opportunities in the gulf. Plus, these creatures are also known for their spectacular leaps from the ocean, so be sure to have your camera at the ready should you spot one.
Hauraki Gulf whale and dolphin conservation
There is a fine balance between conserving these amazing creatures and their habitats in the Hauraki Gulf, and allowing people the chance to see them up close. That’s why there are a number of rules and regulations in place to ensure both needs are met.
For example, should you join a tour boat to see the whales or dolphins, you won’t be allowed to get closer than 50 metres away, and you will not be permitted to throw food (or rubbish) into the water.
During a day tour from Auckland with Habitat Tours, you might not see any whales and dolphins, but you will see plenty of land-based wildlife such as the morepork, or maybe even a wild kiwi if you’re lucky!
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist