Category Archives: Hauraki Gulf dolphins

Hauraki Gulf’s special whales

A group of Bryde’s whales have chosen the Hauraki Gulf as a place to live all year round and as somewhere to bring up their calves. This is unusual for a whale species, as most migrate from the tropics to the polar regions each year. We are very lucky to have a population of whales right on Auckland’s doorstep and we need to look after them.

View this fantastic drone video of the Bryde’s whales in the Gulf taken by AUT scientists.

Bryde’s whales are small baleen whales that can often be seen feeding amongst seabirds and dolphins in large ‘boil ups’ of fish in the Hauraki Gulf. The population is considered to be threatened, being listed by the Department of Conservation as “nationally critical”.

The whales used to be hunted, with 19 animals being taken at the whaling station at Whangaparapara, Great Barrier Island during the 1960s. However, Bryde’s whales do not produce much oil so they were not targeted in the same way that humpback whales were.

Old Whangaparapara Whaling Station
19 Bryde’s whales were taken at the Whangaparapara whaling station on Great Barrier Island during the 1960s. The remains of the old whaling station, shown here, can still be seen in the harbour.

The biggest risk the whales now face is being hit by the large ships that transit the Gulf to enter the Port of Auckland. The shipping lanes cut right across the areas where the whales spend much of their time, and if they are hit by the large hulls travelling at high speed, the whales have little chance of surviving. A total of 18 whales are known to have died from ship strike in the Hauraki Gulf since 1996.

Container ship leaving the Port of Auckland
Large ships are a risk to whales if they travel at fast speeds transiting through the Hauraki Gulf. If the ships slow down to 10 knots or less that risk is significantly reduced.

Responding to this issue, in 2013, Ports of Auckland issued a voluntary protocol that advised ships to reduce speed, where possible, when transiting through the Gulf. At speeds of 10 knots or less there is a much higher chance that the whales will survive a collision. Since the release of the protocol, speeds have been reducing and are now on average less than 11 knots. There has only been one recorded whale death from ship strike, on 12 September 2014, since the protocol was put in place.

Bryde's whale Transit Protocol page 1 Bryde's whale Transit Protocol page 2

Hauraki Gulf Dolphins

There are two species of dolphin resident in the Hauraki Gulf, the larger bottlenose dolphin and the smaller common dolphin. Bottlenose dolphins live up to around 50 years of age and they grow between 2 and 4 metres long. We still know very little about them but they appear to be using the Hauraki Gulf as a nursery area to bring up their young. The population is considered to be endangered so it is important that we look after these highly intelligent, fascinating animals.

If you want to learn more about dolphins in New Zealand and our interactions with them “Dolphins of Aotearoa makes a fascinating read.

Bottlenose dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins use the Hauraki Gulf all year round and most pods include calves or juvenile dolphins.

Common dolphins are not considered to be endangered but anecdotally there are far fewer in the Hauraki Gulf than in the past. They are commonly sighted in large pods around ‘boil ups’ of fish and will play in the bow waves of boats travelling past.

The Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari take people out to see dolphins,  whales and seabirds most days. They have kindly made available some stunning images of Humpback and Bryde’s Whales, Orca and Common and Bottlenose Dolphins for reproduction in The Story of the Hauraki Gulf.

Watching these extraordinary animals in their natural environment, on the very door step of Auckland, is a very thrilling experience.

Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari Hauraki Gulf
A trip out on the Hauraki Gulf to see the whales, dolphins and seabirds can be an exhilarating experience close to Auckland.