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Facts about Hector's dolphin

Maui's dolphin and common dolphin dorsal fins compared.
Maui's and Hector's are the only dolphins with a well-rounded black dorsal fin

Hector’s dolphins are among the world’s smallest marine dolphins. They are found only in the inshore waters of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Two sub-species of Hector’s dolphins exist: the South Island Hector’s dolphin which is found around the South Island of New Zealand, and the Maui’s dolphin which is found off the west coast of the North Island.

What do they look like?

They are the only dolphins in New Zealand with a rounded black dorsal fin. Their bodies are a distinctive grey, with white and black markings and a short snout.

Adult South Island Hector’s dolphins don’t often exceed 1.5 m in length and weigh between 40 and 60 kg. Males are slightly smaller and lighter than females.

Where are they found?

Hector’s dolphins are found around the coast of the South Island but distribution is patchy.

Populations are concentrated between Haast and Farewell Spit in the west, around Banks Peninsula in the east, and Te Waewae Bay and Porpoise Bay/Te Whanaga Aihe in the south.

Fascinating facts

Hector’s dolphins are known to live to a maximum of about 20 years.

Like other dolphins, Hector’s use echolocation to find their food. They send out high frequency ‘clicks’ that bounce off surrounding objects and fish, giving the dolphins a detailed picture of their surroundings. This sonar is not used all the time, which may be one of the reasons why the dolphins get caught in nets.

Females reach sexual maturity between seven to nine years of age. They produce just one calf every two to three years, making population increase a very slow process.

Most females only have four or five calves in a lifetime. Calving usually occurs between November and mid-February, and calves stay with their mothers for up to two years.

Traditionally, Māori watched dolphin movements to predict the weather.

Hector's dolphin. Photo: Shane Lowe.
Hector's dolphin

 

Find out more

Learn more

Contacts

Whare Kaupapa Atawhai / Conservation House
Phone:      +64 4 471 0726
Email:   Enquiries@doc.govt.nz
Full office details

Email: marine@doc.govt.nz 

To report whale or dolphin strandings phone the DOC HOTline 24 hour emergency number:

0800 DOCHOT (0800 362 468)

In the North Island, immediately report any Hector’s/Maui’s dolphin sightings south of Awakino (near the Taranaki – Waikato boundary) and on the East Coast.