Hector's dolphins
Image: Dina Engel and Andreas Maecker; | ©

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


A Hector’s dolphin has been spotted in Napier waters and the DOC is encouraging the public to report any further sightings of this rare, small dolphin.

Date:  10 September 2019

In August, two sightings were reported near Napier Port and verified with a photo. DOC thinks it is likely to be the same dolphin.

Hannah Hendriks, a Marine Technical Advisor for DOC, says that reporting sightings of this distinctive species helps to build a bigger picture of the species’ status and their movements.

“Hector’s dolphins are easily distinguishable from common dolphins. They have a rounded black dorsal fin and their bodies are a grey colour, with white and black markings and a shorter snout,” she says.

“Reporting sightings helps DOC look after marine mammals by providing information about population sizes, breeding rates and movement patterns. It’s particularly valuable for Hector’s dolphins because there are so few of them.

“It’s really exciting that a Hector’s dolphin has been spotted in this area because they’re generally only found in the South Island, and Māui dolphins on the West Coast of the North Island. These photos are proof that the dolphins are occasionally exploring other areas of New Zealand.”

DOC gets occasional reports of the rare dolphins in Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Bay of Plenty, and the Coromandel but it is very rare to get photographic evidence. These verified Napier sightings come after a Hector’s dolphin was photographed in the eastern Bay of Plenty in May this year.

DOC are interested in all sightings of Māui or Hector's dolphins around the North Island, but especially south of Raglan and around the south and east coasts of the North Island.

Reporting a sighting is easy and can be done through an online reporting form, the Hector’s dolphin sightings app, or via the 24 hour DOC hotline, 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). If possible, take a good photo of the dolphin, and record where and when you made the sighting. To find out more about DOC’s Hector’s and Māui dolphin sightings database and validation process, see our website.

If you see an entangled, stranded, or deceased marine mammal call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately.

Hector’s dolphins are listed as Nationally Vulnerable, with an estimated population of 15,000. They are among the world’s smallest marine dolphins, growing to around 1.5m in length, and are found only in the inshore waters of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Their identical cousins, the Māui dolphin, are a subspecies of Hector’s dolphin and are only found off the West Coast of the North Island. A genetic sample is needed to tell the two sub-species apart.

Hector’s and Māui dolphin are known to Māori by other names, including tutumairekurai, aihe, papakanua, upokohue, tukuperu, tūpoupou, pahu, pōpoto and hopuhopu.

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