[above – Southern Royal Albatross and in the background an Oceanic Vulture seen on the way to see the dolphins] Kaikoura is home to a vast array of marine mammals and bird life being the main centre for whale, dolphin, seal and albatross activity in New Zealand (specifically Sperm whales, rare Hector’s dolphins, Dusky dolphins, Fur seals and the Bottle nose dolphin). Occasional visitors include Orca (killer) whales, common dolphins, pilot whales, blue penguins, shearwaters. The reason for all this activity is the close proximity, 80 km from shore, of the Hikurangi Trench which rises sharply from a depth of 3,000 metres providing a deep water food source close to shore. Whales, we heard would feed by diving down to these depths to eat giant squid.
[Credit: By Alexander Karnstedt (Alexrk) – Own workBathymetry: ETOPO2v2 2min – edited with Inkscape, Land Information New Zealand, Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3421224]
The first trip to swim with the dolphins was all a bit chaotic in terms of photography – hopefully these photos give you a flavour of what went off. After donning what felt like a very thick wet suit and gathering up flippers, snorkel, goggles and balaclava, 20 of us set off by very fast powerboat to another bay about 40 km away. On the way we spotted a couple Albatrosses alongside the boat, all quite exciting. As soon as dusky dolphins were spotted we slipped in the water and joined in the fun. The dolphins appeared everywhere and we just headed out to them making dolphin ‘Hey there’ noises. Our instructions had been to swim toward any activity we saw making as much vocal contact as possible, arms by our side, making eye contact, duck diving and swimming in tight circles. The latter of these strategies worked perfectly as the dolphins would swim round following you keeping eye contact.
Matthew had expected some metaphysical experience, a feeling of being at one with nature, etc, etc. Sadly not, there were so many of them there that it just felt like watching fish in a tank at an aquarium, they just kept flashing past underneath as one swam around. Abandoning the goggles and treading water you could see the dolphins rushing past you and taking flips and jumps – this was better.