Welcome to Banks Peninsula, home of The Hector’s dolphins and eco-tourism pioneers Black Cat Cruises

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OBAMA THE DOLPHIN

Around this time of the year Hector’s dolphins give birth. There are quite a number of little calves around at the moment, one of which is jet black. Crew on board the Canterbury Cat in Lyttelton have named the new born Obama! Calves are often quite dark when they are first born but quickly grow and lighten into the distinct three colours of adult Hectors.

Hector’s dolphins mature usually have one calf every two to three years. Hector’s dolphins mate in late spring (New Zealand spring = September/October/November) and calves are born about a year later. The calves are 50-60cm at birth and stay close to their mothers who provide them with milk and protection until they are old enough to fend for themselves, usually at about one year old.

CHRISTCHURCH GIRL STEPS FORWARD TO SAVE ENDANGERED HECTOR’S DOLPHINS

Fifteen year old Christchurch Avonside High School student Aescleah Hawkins has an unusual resolution for 2010 – this year, she has pledged to help stop the extinction of New Zealand’s endangered Hector’s dolphins. It’s an apt resolution for the new decade: the UN has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity, officially launching in Berlin tomorrow (11 January 2010).

On 4, 5 and 6 March, Aescleah will walk the 42 kilometers from Lyttelton to Akaroa, aiming to raise vital funds for WWF’s Stop Their Extinction campaign, and spreading the message of the urgent need to protect Hector’s dolphins. She plans to bring together a team of 12 walkers, including herself, aiming to raise $36,000 for WWF’s conservation of the species.

“We are walking to Akaroa because that’s one of the places where Hector’s dolphins live. I hope that we can raise people’s awareness that the dolphins are now endangered, and we need to save them,” explains Aescleah. “Hector’s dolphins are just amazing, wonderful animals and we can’t let them go extinct. I want to see change come about, from our walk,” she concludes.

Hector’s dolphins need significant change if they are to survive. The species, which lives only in the coastal waters of New Zealand’s South Island, has lost nearly three quarters of it numbers since the 1970s, from 29,000 to an estimated 7,270 today. Hector’s are classified as one of the rarest marine dolphins in the world and ranked as ‘endangered’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. For these reasons, WWF-New Zealand ranks the survival of Hector’s dolphins a national conservation emergency.

When Aescleah found out about the plight of Hector’s dolphins, she immediately wanted to help: “I’d done a walk for wildlife in the UK for WWF, and really enjoyed it, so I wanted to do something here in New Zealand for local wildlife. I contacted WWF-New Zealand, found out about Hector’s dolphins being endangered and it was like – this is something I have to get involved in.”

When Aescleah talked about the idea of a sponsored walk with her family and WWF, the idea of making a symbolic journey from Christchurch to Akaroa emerged, and Aescleah’s initial interest quickly snowballed with friends, family and local tourism operators getting involved. Aescleah is hoping to bring together a team of 12 walkers including herself, with each walker pledging to raise $3000 each. Confirmed walkers so far are Aescleah’s mother, Sara-Jane Hawkins, three of Aeshleah’s friends, and Paul Bingham, Managing Director of Black Cat Cruises, and Aescleah aims to find another 6 walkers to take up the challenge. The walkers are being guided by Tuatara Tours, which is generously discounting its services at cost.

“Aescleah’s passion for Hector’s dolphins is just wonderful – it’s great to see how she’s getting everyone around her excited by the idea of doing something positive to help protect Hector’s dolphins,” comments WWF-New Zealand’s Executive Director Chris Howe.

“It will raise vital funds for WWF’s campaign to save Hector’s dolphins, and we’re very grateful for Aescleah and her team’s support in this respect. But the message that it sends is just as important in showing the Government that New Zealanders are passionate about our wildlife, and want Hector’s dolphins protected. The more people who give their support, the more powerful that message will be, so we’re encouraging everyone who wants to protect Hector’s dolphins to please support Aescleah’s Walk for Hector’s.
This is a national conservation issue that every New Zealander can get involved in solving, and we encourage people across the country to back Aescleah’s cause,” he said.

Though Aescleah only celebrated her fifteenth birthday in November 2009, she explains her decision walk for Hector’s as just down to her “lifelong commitment to wildlife”.

“I went out on a tour with the Black Cat Cruises and we saw four mothers and calves – it was just amazing,” says Aescleah.

“We’ve got involved to draw awareness to just how rare Hector’s dolphins now are,” comments Paul Bingham, Managing Director of Black Cat Cruises. “Black Cat only exists because of our partnership with the dolphins and the unique marine environment we operate in. We give people the opportunity to experience Hector’s dolphins, and we are committed to protecting the dolphins. When this opportunity came up to get involved in Aescleah’s walk for Hector’s, we got right behind it as another way of supporting our ongoing work to support the conservation of this endangered species.”

HECTORS DOLPHIN AS KIWI AS THE KIWI

The Hector’s dolphin is as Kiwi as the Kiwi and a Canterbury Cruise and Wildlife company says it is fantastic news to see Hector’s dolphins named in a drive to promote wildlife tourism and conservation In New Zealand.

The ‘Big Five’ concept is used by big-game hunters in Africa to refer to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Tourism New Zealand has borrowed this concept to develop its own unique ‘Small Five’ list to encourage travellers to come and see some of the world’s rarest creatures for themselves.

New Zealand’s ‘Small Five’ focuses on promoting awareness and conservation of five of its small, rare indigenous creatures – the nation’s iconic Kiwi, Hector’s dophin, yellow-eyed penguin, tuatara and kea.

“New Zealand’s has many indigenous and rare species and a holiday here offers unique experiences to enjoy seeing them, from a night walk to kiwi-spot on a deserted beach, to swimming with the world’s smallest dolphin,” Tourism New Zealand Chief Executive George Hickton said when announcing the initiative.

“We are working closely with the Department of Conversation to raise our profile as a wildlife destination and while our ‘Small Five’ might not be as big as Africa’s, their uniqueness can’t be matched.”

The Department of Conservation and the operators working with these animals have active conservation programmes, which help to protect and preserve these rare birds and animals.

Black Cat Cruises Managing Director Paul Bingham welcomed the news of the programme and the fact the Hectors Dolphin made the list. “The Hector’s dolphin is as Kiwi as the Kiwi,” he said.

“For twenty five years we have been showcasing the beautiful Hector’s dolphins to an appreciative audience. We are proud to have raised awareness of the dolphins and will continue to provide the best opportunity to experience the dolphins up close, either by viewing them or a unique up close swim with dolphins cruise.”

The Hectors are special because they are our only native dolphin and cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.”

Tourism New Zealand has launched a dedicated feature on http://www.newzealand.com/wildlife to give visitors detailed information on where to see the Small Five and other unique wildlife experience in New Zealand.

NEW BOATS TO BE LAUNCHED

Two purpose built boats worth $350,000 are being launched in Akaroa by Black Cat Cruises on Friday 17 October.

“Dolphin swimming and wildlife cruises bring thousands of visitors into our region every year,” Black Cat Cruises Managing Director Paul Bingham said.

“It is vital we can provide a world class experience that matches, and hopefully exceeds expectations. The new boats will mean we are even better placed to do that.”

The two boats are purpose built and include several features that are a first for Osprey, the manufacturer of the dolphin swimming boats.

“We have worked hard with the boat builders to design a boat with features that will really add value to the experience – sometimes it’s the little things that really count.”

Bingham said the extra features include quieter engines, a full hard top roof with roll up windows – first of its kind for manufactures’ Osprey – larger windows and a warm water hose for before and after swimming.

“We looked at a few options 12 months ago and decided that building to our specifications was the best way forward.”

The company also introduced a world first dolphin swimming experience, the use of dry suits, during the winter months.

Dry suits mean swimmers can keep their normal clothes on under the dry suit when they enter the water.

Black Cat Cruises has also completed a full refurbishment of its Dolphin Swimming office on Beach Road in Akaroa.

“We are always looking at ways to improve the visitors’ experience, and the introduction of the dry suits combined with the new boats and the office refurbishment means we are very optimistic and enthusiastic about the coming summer season,” Bingham said.

“We hope the local community will join us to celebrate the launching of the boats – every visitor that comes to swim or cruise with us spends money in other areas of the town.”

The new boats will be officially launched by Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker at 10.30am on the Main Wharf in Akaroa on Friday 17 October.

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FISHERMAN SAVED BY BLACK CAT FERRY

A Korean fisherman who fell overboard in Lyttelton Harbour this morning owes his life to the crew of a tugboat and the skipper of the Black Cat Cruises Diamond Harbour ferry.

The man was thought to have fallen off the trawler at about 6am on Thursday morning and was spotted by the crew of the Blackadder tug operating in the harbour.

The tug crew threw him a life ring but were unable to haul him aboard and enlisted the help of the Diamond Harbour Ferry and its skipper John Rocheford.

Rocheford single-handedly rescued the man in the choppy early morning seas in very dark conditions. The man was treated for hypothermia by paramedics

“We think he was in the water for 20 minutes,” Black Cat Cruises managing Director Paul Bingham said.

“He didn’t speak any English and our skipper showed excellent seasmanship, skills and strength to haul him on board in tough conditions.”

All in a days work for a Black Cat Skipper!

WORLD FIRST DOLPHIN SWIMMING EXPERIENCE FOR AKAROASWIM

The image of James Bond stepping out of a wet suit with a dry tuxedo underneath becomes a reality for Akaroa dolphin swimming operator Black Cat Cruises from 22 July this year.

The company is introducing a world first dolphin swimming experience – the use of dry suits which are also used by New Zealand Armed Forces, the US coast guard and the NASA space programme for Escape Suit Life preservers.

Black Cat Managing Director Paul Bingham product tested the suits upon their arrival this week.

“I wore my normal clothes under the suit and remained 100 percent dry despite spending nearly half an hour in the water. Although the water temperature was around 10C I was very warm, and additional benefits were that they are very buoyant and after being in the water I could slip out of the suit and walk straight off the boat and jump into the car – just like James Bond”.

“You can lie flat in the water and almost go to sleep. The weightlessness is very relaxing. Under normal circumstances I would not be swimming in July but now dolphin swimming is a genuine all year round experience,” he said.

“This is a world first and I believe the investment we have made will really improve the experience that our customers have with us – it’s warm and enjoyable; of course the dolphins don’t mind if you are in a wet suit or dry suit, they seemed to be as friendly as ever.”

The dry suits will be available free of charge from mid July to September and there will be a small surcharge for the rest of the year. Normal wetsuits remain available at no charge year round.

Bingham said the dry suits have proven extremely successful with Canadian rafting companies operating in cold winter months.

Black Cat Cruises has been operating for 22 years and is a former winner of the Supreme tourism award and is the largest tourism operator on Banks

NEW PAINT TECHNOLOGY SAVES ON FUEL COSTS

New technology paint being applied to vessels operated by Black Cat Cruises will result in huge savings on fuel costs and is better for the environment.

“We are replacing our existing traditional paint with new intersleek 970 antifoul paint on two of our vessels that operate in Akaroa,” Black Cat Cruises Managing Director Paul Bingham said.

“We expect to save around six percent of diesel use as the intersleek paint is more ‘slippery’ and allows the vessel to move through the water with greater efficiency – the new paint system has much less friction than the one we currently use.”

“Currently after about six months in Akaroa Harbour we see quite a lot of weed on our vessels. We only pull the boats out of the water for cleaning and servicing once a year so the weed stays on the vessel meaning there is greater drag and we use more fuel.”

“The new intersleek paint is also far more resistant to the weed growth so drag on the vessels over a period of time will be reduced – it’s amazing that what seems like a small thing will have such a big impact on our fuel costs,” Bingham said

The application of new intersleek paint needs to be done only once every five years where normal painting is done annually.

The intersleek paint is also better for the environment as it does not emit toxins into the waterways like traditional anti foul paint used on vessels.

Black Cat Cruises applied to The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) for funding support for the project.

The EECA works to raise community awareness of energy efficiency issues and provides businesses and individuals with the tools and support to make changes and promote a sustainable energy future by changing the way New Zealanders think about and use energy.

“We received $5,000 from the EECA and will be monitoring the project closely and reviewing our findings with them,” Bingham said.

The cost to paint the Black Cat vessel with the new technology paint is $17,000 and the company expects annual diesel savings of up to 3500 litres per year. The cost to paint its other vessel Cat 2 is $7,800 with expected annual savings of up to 2000 litres per year.

“Our fuel bill is expected to be in excess of $500,000 over the next 12 months so we need to be looking for new ways to reduce fuel consumption. Reducing drag on our vessels with the new intersleek paint is a one way to do this. We’re also looking at how far we take our vessels each day and at what speed.”

“In addition we think we’re probably running the newest engines in New Zealand. From October the average age of our engines will be 9 months old. This creates greater efficiency and reduces fuel use”

Black Cat Cruises has been operating for 22 years and is a former winner of the Supreme tourism award and is the

REAL JOURNEYS BUYS INTO BLACK CAT CRUISES

Real Journeys Ltd. has bought into Canterbury based Black Cat Cruises in a move both company’s say is a vote of confidence in the tourism industry in the Canterbury region.

The new joint venture company will be 50 percent owned by Real Journeys with Black Cat Cruises retaining half the business. Its present Managing Director Paul Bingham will stay on in that capacity with other Bingham family members exiting the business.

“This is a real vote of confidence in the future of Canterbury and Banks Peninsula tourism,” Managing Director Paul Bingham said. “It shows the real promise and appeal that our region holds.”

“The two companies – although operating in different areas – are quite similar. Both are family owned cruising businesses with award winning backgrounds that are widely recognised as industry leaders.”

Bingham said the company had been looking for a business partner who had the same values in terms of its staff, commitment to the environment and dedication to providing a world class experience.

“Real Journeys has a very similar view to us on what is important to its business. They are a leading tourism operation in New Zealand and will be a great partner for our business.”

The immediate future will be business as usual for the Black Cat Cruises operation as it looks forward to a busy summer season. The company says it will be looking at any revenue and cost synergies on an on going basis and Black Cat Cruises branding will be retained.

The deal is subject to conditions which include the relevant assignment of licenses, contracts and permits. The date the new joint venture officially starts is December 1.

Real Journeys operates cruises in Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri, Stewart Island and Queenstown, and has 19 vessels including the iconic TSS Earnslaw. At the height of the season around 420 staff are employed. It also operates connecting coach and aircraft services to its different excursions.

This year Real Journeys won the Conservation in Action Award as well as the Qualmark Award at the New Zealand Tourism Industry Awards.

“This is a good fit for Real Journeys and we’re looking forward to working with Paul as we develop the business further” Real Journeys CEO, Dave Hawkey said.

Black Cat Cruises has nine vessels and 40 staff in Banks Peninsula, and has been operating for 22 years. It is a former winner of the Supreme tourism award and is the largest tourism operator on Banks Peninsula.