Whales are the world's largest mammals. New Zealand is a hotspot for marine mammals, with almost half the world’s whale and dolphin species found here.

Whales and dolphins belong to a group of animals called cetaceans. They can be divided into two families:

  • Toothed whales have teeth, though these may not always be obvious. These whales use sound waves in a method called echolocation to navigate and hunt for fish and squid. New Zealand examples include sperm whales, pilot whales and dolphins.
  • Baleen whales have plates of baleen suspended from the roof of their mouths, through which enormous quantities of krill are sucked from the water. These whales are generally larger than toothed whales and include the largest whale of all, the blue whale. New Zealand examples include humpback and Southern right whales.

Common species of whales:

Killer whale/orca are actually the largest member of the dolphin family.


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DOC 24 hour emergency hotline:
0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Phone to report:

Seals severely injured, entangled, or being harassed by people or dogs
Whale or dolphin strandings
Sick or injured wildlife

For other enquiries, contact your nearest DOC office