3rd February KAIKOURA WHALE WATCH TRIP
Kaikoura first attracted Maori who came to harvest the abundant seafood and were followed by European whalers and sealers. The town is built on the site of a whaling station established in 1843.
Giant Sperm Whales are year-round residents in the deep trenches off the Kaikoura coast, feeding on rich marine life in the Kaikoura Canyon, which runs along the coast quite close to shore. The seabed gradually slopes away from land before plunging to more than 2000m. The southerly current hits the continental shelf creating an upwelling which brings nutrients up from the ocean floor into the feeding zone and attracts abundant marine life. Small fish and crustaceans in turn draws a food chain of larger marine life.
The world’s largest carnivore, they are equivalent in size to four elephants with each tooth weighing more than a kilogram. With a diet of mainly Giant Squid, many have battle scars from scuffles with the monster of the deep.
Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world in which year round Sperm Whale watching can be done, the other being northern Norway.
In the morning we head out to the whale watch office in town to sign in for the trip and then walk down to the wharf to board. The ride is not too smooth bumping over the waves and it is making a few people ill. I’m usually ok on boats but even I had to move to a seat in the centre where the rocking is not so intense! We are kept entertained with a ‘world of whales’ animation and live commentary from a naturalist.
The boat stops a few times to check for signs of any whales using an underwater directional hydrophone over the side of the boat which detects the clicking noises made by the whales for communication and navigation needed in the darkness of the deep sea. On the fourth attempt, we see two Sperm Whales! It is two adults who have come to the surface to replenish their air supply, expelling mist from their blowholes. The crew informs us that they are logging, lying still at the surface with their dorsal fin down so we only see the top of the whales. They stay for around three minutes and then dive back down again! Everyone had scrambled to the top deck and a few inconsiderate people keep on blocking the view taking photos, forcing us to try and see around them! Oh so much fun…
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On the way back, the boat stops at seal rock where a NZ fur seal colony is hanging out and then it’s a bumpy ride back to the shore again.
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When comparing this trip to the Humpback Whale trip we had been on in Australia, it was not nearly as exhilarating but this is due to the fact that Humpbacks are much more inquisitive, will literally come right up to the boat to look at you, will jump out of the water and are generally much more active and engaging. Having said that, it was still a privilege seeing Sperm Whales in the wild. (But if you have a choice, definitely do the Humpback trip!)