View of a sea inlet in the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary
Image: Sam Gillooly | DOC


Horomaka/Banks Peninsula is home to some of New Zealand’s threatened marine species, including the endangered Hector’s dolphin.

The Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary encompasses a total area of approximately 14,310 km2.

It extends from the southern boundary of the Te Rohe o Te Whānau puha Kaikōura Whale Sanctuary, south to the Waitaki River and out to sea 20 nautical miles from the coast (see map below).

Purpose of the sanctuary

New Zealand’s first marine mammal sanctuary was created around Banks Peninsula in 1988, to protect the endangered Hector’s dolphin from bycatch in set nets.

Banks Peninsula has been identified as a hotspot for Hector’s dolphin on the east coast of the South Island. Its many bays and harbours are an ideal habitat for Hector’s dolphin and for many other marine animals.

History of the sanctuary

When the sanctuary was first created in 1988, it covered an area of 1140 km2. It extended from Sumner Head to the Rakaia River, and out to a distance of four nautical miles. Twenty years later (2008) the sanctuary boundaries were extended in further effort to protect Hector’s dolphins. The NZ Gazette notice for a marine mammal sanctuary specifies the restrictions on activities within their boundaries.

In 2020, The Minister of Conservation, Hon. Eugenie Sage, varied the sanctuary following a review of the Hector’s and Māui Dolphin Threat Management Plan.

The variations included:  

  • extending the sanctuary north to the southern boundary of the Te Rohe o Te Whānau puha Kaikōura Whale Sanctuary, south to the Waitaki River, and further out to sea to 20 nautical miles
  • a ban on seismic surveying with an exemption for existing exploration and mining permits, and
  • a ban on seismic surveying with exemptions for:
    • existing permits
    • urgent hazard assessments,
    • decommissioning of infrastructure
    • “Level 3” category seismic surveys as per the seismic surveying code of conduct, and
    • nationally significant activities that have received approval from the Minister of Conservation and Minister of Energy and Resources.

Hector’s dolphin

Hector’s dolphins/upokohue are easily recognised by their rounded dorsal fin and black, grey and white markings. With a maximum length of 145 cm (60 - 70cm at birth), they are the smallest marine dolphin in the world.

Hector’s dolphins are naturally inquisitive and friendly to people. Small groups will bow-ride and play in the wake of boats. Summer is the best time to see dolphins around Banks Peninsula as they move close inshore to breed and raise their young. If you are in a boat when dolphins are nearby, make sure you slow down, especially if young dolphins are present as they are not good swimmers and there is risk of boat strike.

All marine mammals are fully protected in New Zealand waters under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, which DOC administers.

If you see marine mammals stranded or in distress, contact your nearest DOC office immediately.


Banks Peninsula marine mammal sanctuary boundaries (PDF, 557K) 

Related links

NZ Gazette notice

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