There are two species of dolphin in the Bay of Plenty, the Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates). The Bottlenose is the dolphin you will be familiar with being tamed and trained in aquariums around the world. They grow to about 3.5 meters and 300kgs. Pods of Bottlenose numbering six to twenty animals travel through these waters every two to four weeks. When they do pass they like to come into the harbour and interact with swimmers.
Scientists tell us there are about 50 000 common dolphins in the Bay of Plenty, these dolphins are smaller at about 1.5 metres and 100kgs. They are more oceanic in nature, not venturing into the harbour. They tend to be in larger pods, anything up to several hundred animals. Pod size tend to be smaller, may be only six animals the closer they are to shore.
There are about 150 Orca in NZ waters, over 100 of these have been identified and named. They live in family pods that are matriarchal by nature, being the extended family of the dominant female orca. The orca stay in these pods for life, most pods have from six to twenty animals. There are two basic populations, one in the North Island and one in the South Island. These animals will occasionally travel across Cook Straight to the other Island but soon return to their home territory. Very occasionally a pod from the Southern Ocean will come up into NZ coastal waters, the colouration of these orca is quite different from NZ orca.
Pilot Whales are small toothed whales; they travel around the NZ coast in pods of up to 100 animals or more. They look similar to Orca, in fact one sub species of Pilot Whale is called the False Killer Whale. Pilot Whales are the only wild cetaceans that have been recorded as attacking humans in the wild (well it wasn't really an attack, more of an interaction), in this instance a pilot whale took a female snorkeller by her legs and dragged her down, then let her go as the rest of the pod looked on.
Pilot whales have a strange habit of mass stranding, there is over 9438 recorded stranding's around NZ.
Brydes, Minke, Humpback, Right and Blue Whales are found in the BOP mostly in early spring and late autumn. They are on their annual migration from the krill rich feeding grounds of the Antarctic to the warmer waters of the South Pacific, around Tonga and Northern Australia. They travel to these warmer waters to have their young and then return to the Antarctic waters.
NZ Fur Seals were wiped out of the area during the 1800's by sealers and whalers. But now they are making a comeback. Most times of the year except in the middle of summer we can find seals. They are great to observe from the boat and also swim with.
Many different fish species are seen on our trips, whether you just watch from the boat or take the opportunity to snorkel at a bay where we stop for lunch. Some of the more unusual and exotic species that we occasionally see from the boat are:
- Giant Sunfish, or Mola Mola. These are the world's largest bony fish and can grow up to a ton in weight. They feed on jellyfish and salps, and can be an amazing snorkelling experience.
- Manta Ray. These guys are plankton feeders and can grow up to 8 meters across. They are very beautiful as they fly through the water and are a possible snorkel opportunity if the conditions are right.
- Whale Shark. Although rarer than Mantas and Sunfish they are occasionally seen in the Bay. They are also plankton feeders and are the largest fish in the world, unlike the Sunfish they have no bones only cartilage.
There are many species of seabirds in the bay, of all of them the Australasian Gannet is our favourite. This is because it feeds on the same fish as the dolphins and can be a good indicator of the dolphins' location. These are some of the species you are likely to see:
Storm petrels, Diving Petrels, Blue Penguins, Albatross, Godwits, Sooty Shearwaters, Fluttering Shearwaters, Cape Pigeons, Brown Skuas, White Fronted Turns, Black Back Seagulls, Red Billed Seagulls