A huge thank you to the Department of Conservation for taking the time to visit and speak with us as part of their Business Spotlight series. The series aims to highlight how businesses can get involved in the conversation, and play a part by taking action.
Kaitiakitanga of New Zealand’s native dolphin, the Hector’s dolphin is simply a natural part of who we are.
Being the world’s smallest and rarest oceanic dolphin, only found around the shores of the South Island, it has been our role, for almost 40 years as an eco-tourism operator, to help protect and preserve both their space and place, and their survival.
If you would like to discover a little more about how we continue to support the Hector’s dolphins you can do this here
We are so so pleased to confirm that Black Cat Cruises has just had its Qualmark Gold award renewed. This award is reviewed annually, and is something we are proud to maintain as we continually strive to be a sustainable, world class operation.
” Your award can be proudly displayed as evidence that Black Cat Cruises is committed to protecting our beautiful natural environment, enhancing connections with our local communities, whilst also delivering a quality, safe experience for all visitors.”
Thank you to Qualmark for renewing our
QUALMARK GOLD AWARD
We are whole heartedly grateful for this continued recognition, and would like to shout out to our dedicated crew and team both in Akaroa and Lyttelton that all work so hard to deliver our experiences, whilst caring for both our environment and it’s inhabitants.
When and what is Gold awarded for?
Gold Sustainable Tourism Business Award
A Gold Award recognises the best sustainable tourism businesses in New Zealand, with the delivery of exceptional customer experiences an integral part of everything they do. A Gold Sustainable Tourism Award identifies those businesses leading the way in making the New Zealand tourism industry a world class sustainable visitor destination.
The process to obtain an award be it bronze, silver or gold is extremely thorough and covers four key areas in depth, These are…
Social & People
Environment & Culture
Health, Safety & Wellness
So the next time you are considering a tourism activity in New Zealand we recommend looking for the Qualmark seal.
If you’d like to understand more about who Qualmark are and how they work you can find out more information here.
Black Cat is proud to release this personal recollection of the key events and people that built the business into what it is today.
The idea for the video came about when Black Cat tragically lost one of its finest in a car accident. This video is dedicated to the entire team; past and present.
The Black Cat Cruises story officially started in 1985, but the founding family traces its Banks Peninsula roots back to the 1920s with a close connection to the Diamond Harbour ferry.
This video documentary traces the story from the early days when founders Ron and Durelle Bingham started with just one boat, taking 8 customers out for an Akaroa Harbour cruise, and charts the key moments over the following four decades.
Black Cat weathered the storm of engine breakdowns, devastating earthquakes, painful personal losses, and global pandemics to grow into one of the top cruise operations in New Zealand.
We delve into what it was really like in Akaroa in the 1980s. A time when much was unknown about how a year-round tourism business would even survive, a time of very few international visitors and interest rates of over 20%!
The 80s were also important because it marked the start of a journey to increase awareness of Hector’s dolphins. Whilst everyone knows how precious they are today, back in 1985 no one cared. That changed thanks to the efforts of companies like Black Cat and marine pioneers like Professors Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson.
We also look at the expansion into Lyttelton in 1999, the heart-breaking marina storm and the early days of running the iconic Diamond Harbour ferry, and the unique challenges of the 2011 quakes and 2020 pandemic.
Today as we head towards 40 years in business the family and team reflect on the journey they’ve taken together. The one thing that stands true is the importance of the people. Our vision has always been to deliver the highest quality of experiences, a culture of excellence, education, entertainment, and safety……and we recognise that we do all this thanks to our extremely passionate and dedicated team.
We hope you enjoy learning about the good times and the bad, and the story that shaped the company.
Today we continue to advocate for the Hector’s dolphins. They are the world’s rarest and smallest oceanic dolphin, and only found around the shores of New Zealand’s South Island. You can find out more about our work and how you can help on our dedicated Protect Hector’s page.
Every year Black Cat Cruises join in with the national celebration of Seaweek.
Seaweek is an opportunity to celebrate connecting with our seas….and what better way than instilling that connection with our youngest generation from the very start? So read on and discover the link to our free live concert…and our brand new book dedicated to non other than the wee Hector’s Dolphins.
ITS ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC…
You may or may not know that last year we worked with local legend Music With Michal – a fantastic performer who writes and sings fun and (very) catchy tunes for little kids. Michal not only performed some Seaweek themed concerts on our boat, but we also asked her to write a wonderful song dedicated to the Hector’s Dolphins. It was soooo good we even made a wee music video.
Thanks to Michal and her super talented friend illustrator Andy Knopp the song has been turned into a fantastic children’s book which is now available for pre-order.
we are hosting a Live from Lyttelton free & streamed concert with Music With Michal.
JOIN THE SEAWEEK LIVE STREAM ON WEDNESDAY MARCH 9TH STARTING AT 9.30AM UNTIL 10AM WITH THIS LINK
This wonderful new book is available on the Black Cat website and priced at $22.
$2 from every book printed goes to the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust. So in turn we are not only offering education but we are able to further support scientific research and protection for New Zealand’s native and endangered dolphin, the Hector’s Dolphin.
KIWI OF THE SEA – HECTOR’S DOLPHIN
If you’d like to check out the Hector’s Dolphin song you can watch the video right here… Share this with your friends and family who have a little one 🙂
Another great way for little ones to get involved is by becoming a Protect Hector’s member. Membership includes a personalised certificate, Hector’s fact sheet and a plush Hector’s dolphin toy. Memberships are just $30 and available to purchase directly from our website here
We know how much Kiwis love playing in and around the water in the summertime.
We flock to our favorite beaches to swim, surf, paddle board, kayak, sail, water ski and more so it’s safe to say we are a nation of water lovers.…we may even do a once-in-a-lifetime swim with a certain marine mammal found here on Banks Peninsula. But whatever it is we like or want to do……..
Nothing is more important than safety when it comes to our oceans in Aotearoa.
So we have filled this blog with heaps of helpful tips. Water safety comes in two forms that we’ll cover: safety for you and safety for our ocean environment.
Safety for you on the water
When you’re on your vessel, you have sole responsibility for yourself and others’ marine safety. If your vessel is smaller than 4.8 metres, everybody on board must wear a lifejacket at all times. Make sure everyone’s life jacket fits using the graphic pictured here. Even on bigger vessels, make sure you have plenty of life jackets for every size to hand. Lifebuoys are also great when someone goes overboard, as pictured below.
Another extremely important aspect of boat safety is obeying speed limits. You must only go 5 knots when:
within 200m of the shore
within 200m of any structure
within 200m of a boat displaying a diver’s flag
within 50m of any other boat
within 50m of a person swimming
on a powerboat, if any person has any part of their body outside the rails or edge of the deck.
It’s good to know that when you’re aboard a Black Cat vessel, you’re in the safe hands of a MTOC accredited operator. What does that mean? We’ve been through the rigorous process of gaining certificates of approval from Maritime NZ. That means they’ve agreed we have a capable and well-trained crew, we have managed risk hazards, our boats are running smoothly, and we know what we’d do in an emergency.
It’s a very good idea to keep clear of large vessels. They aren’t any good at quickly moving out of your way.
The Maritime website has everything you need to know about boat safety if you want to know more and here is a great visual guide on how to fit a life jacket safely.
General water safety rules you should always follow
Whatever you’re doing on the water, there are some universal tips to keeping safe.
Assess the conditions before heading out there.
Plan ahead and check the weather and wind forecast. It’s usually the WIND AND SWELL that can cause the biggest problems. A great free website or app for this is Windy. If it’s stormy or super windy, and the water is really choppy, don’t go out. If it’s getting dark, don’t go out there.
A great option is to GO WITH A FRIEND and have some way of communicating some-one on land. If you are going out alone tell someone responsible where you are going and what time you expect to be back.
You should also DRESS APPROPRIATELY, WEAR AN OCEAN FRIENDLY SUNSCREEN….and when taking part in any water sports ALWAYS WEAR A LIFEJACKET. Even in summer, hypothermia can still happen. New Zealand’s water isn’t tropical and the water gets colder the further out you go, or when you’re in the water for long enough.
If you ever get caught in a strong current or ‘rip’ DO NOT PANIC. Let yourself be carried by the rip as it won’t go forever. This way, you won’t exhaust yourself fighting against it. Once you stop getting carried, you can swim or paddle around the tip and safely get to shore. If you are swimming on a beach that is patrolled by lifeguards try to raise your arm if you can so you can hopefully get spotted and have one of the amazing New Zealand Surf Life Savers come to your rescue.
To upskill yourself in and around the water you could always join one of your local Surf Life Saving clubs. They have regular training sessions and best of all children can enroll from the age of 7 so they can help educate the next generation of young Kiwi’s on water safety. They even have a great page on how to stay safe at the beach any time of year which you can find here.
Safety for the environment
New Zealand is a beautiful country, and we’re pretty good at keeping it that way. But we all need a reminder every now and then, and we have to keep at it every time we’re outside. Black Cat Cruises is also a SMART operator, and that’s not just us tooting our own horns. It means we are part of a voluntary collaboration between DOC and commercial vessels that are involved with marine mammals. DOC gives us guidelines to make sure we minimize our impact on their natural processes. The principles are carried to all marine life in Akaroa, from the little blue penguin and the fur seal to our beloved Hector’s Dolphins (and any other visits we get from Orcas or Humpback whales!)
You can also follow these guidelines.
If you see another vessel near a marine animal, keep clear and wait for them to leave before approaching.
NEVER feed a marine animal.
Move very slowly and do not circle.
Don’t swim with dolphins that have juveniles (half the size of an adult or smaller).
Onshore, keep dogs on leashes near seals and give them space.
Don’t get between a seal and the sea.
Also, keep a lookout for any vessel (fishing, commercial or private) which looks like it’s breaking the rules. You can report anything suspicious to 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
Black Cat Cruises welcomes Glenn and Andrew Ritchie of RTH International as new investors.
Paul Bingham says, ‘We are delighted to welcome Glenn and Andrew Ritchie into the Black Cat Cruises business as we embark on a new chapter.’
This is only the second time in 36 years that Black Cat Cruises shares have changed hands. RTH International will now hold a 50% shareholding in Black Cat Cruises, having purchased the shares previously owned by Real Journeys since 2007. Bingham will continue to retain the further 50% of the company.
Both Glenn and his nephew Andrew will bring a substantial amount of knowledge and experience to the board. Whilst most well-known for transport line Ritchies, which has been in operation for over 80 years, they also own 47% of Entrada Travel Group whose portfolio includes an impressive array of tourism businesses across both New Zealand and Australia. These include activities, ferries and on land transport such as Intercity, Auckland’s Whale and Dolphin Safari, Northland ferries, Port Douglas Daintree Ferry (North Queensland) and multiple Cairns based Great Barrier Reef cruise and dive operations.
‘We are looking forward to working together to both strengthen our recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and launch future projects such as the new ferry for Lyttelton.’ Bingham says.
‘We have admired Black Cat Cruises since it launched as a leading eco-tourism operator. We’ve seen it grow from a dedicated local experience to a world class brand. It’s local heritage, family values, and commitment to conservation and customer experience is tremendous, and as such we saw the opportunity to come on board and invest as a perfect alignment.’ Glenn Ritchie says.
The acquisition comes at an exciting time for the company whose operations include the Diamond Harbour ferry service as well as iconic Akaroa Nature Cruise, Swimming with Dolphins experience and Quail Island and Ripapa Island ferries based in Lyttelton. Despite the lack of international visitors, the company has enjoyed strong support from New Zealanders. They are recognised as being one of the first eco-tourism operators in New Zealand and have been operating for over 36 years.
Paul Milligan, Chief Executive of Black Cat Cruises looks forward to embracing the future. ‘Navigating through the pandemic, has been our biggest challenge to date. We have remained steadfast in our approach, and our approach has always focused on our customers. Whether we focus on local or international guests our mission has always remained the same; to continue delivering world-class experiences here in Akaroa and Lyttleton, whilst supporting conservation work for the Hector’s dolphins. There is power in partnerships and surrounding yourself with a great team…and that is even sweeter when a partnership is born from your own home-grown turf right here in Canterbury.’
How much do you know about the different Hector’s Dolphin populations around the country? Where exactly do they live? As an ecotourism operator local to Canterbury, we are obviously guilty of focusing on the 1000 or so dolphins that live around our harbours. Banks Peninsula is of special importance to us, being our home for nearly 40 years. Fortunately, Hector’s Dolphins can be found all around the waters of New Zealand. Today’s blog aims to help you understand a little more about other populations of Hector’s Dolphins beyond the Banks Peninsula area.
NORTH ISLAND DOLPHINS
You may not be aware of an incredibly rare subspecies of the Hector’s Dolphin known as the ‘Maui Dolphins’. They are very similar, but are thought to have been isolated from each other for around 16000 years. Māui dolphins have very slightly larger skulls than Hector’s dolphins and a longer, wider rostrum or snout. With only 56 individuals alive today, they are the rarest marine mammal on the planet. They live in a very small area on the western side of the North Island. The entire species’ survivability rests on 9 female dolphins of calf-rearing age.
Hector’s Dolphins are rarely sighted in the North Island. This is why it’s so important we look after the Maui’s Dolphin subspecies. They are only found on the west coast of the North Island from the New Plymouth area to Maunganui Bluff. Despite their extreme rarity, Maui Dolphins are still in huge danger of being caught in nets from commercial fishers. Bans only exist a few kilometres off shore, but Maui Dolphins go far beyond this area. With the Maui dolphins being even rarer than the kākāpō, should we be risking the death of a single animal, when each one is essential to the overall survivability of the species?
WEST COAST DOLPHINS
As seen in the map on the right, Hector’s Dolphins can be found almost all around the coasts of the South Island.
Black Cat Cruises have always pushed for more protection in our local waters from fishing nets. But we’re still leagues ahead of the West Coast. Namely, nothing in the recently released TMP addresses the areas along the West Coast. Whilst this area has a lower concentration of Fishers, it is unacceptable that they can still operate here almost unhinged. Pictured below are the current areas which ban trawl netting on the West Coast. This will remain completely unchanged following the integration of any of the proposed Threat Management Plan’s options. This area is the least documented area when it comes to Hector’s Dolphins. However, it doesn’t take a marine biologist to see that there are massive areas where Hector’s Dolphins are threatened by trawl netting. Set net bans are only enforced a few kilometres offshore, and don’t go far enough to cover the dolphin’s habitat.
NORTH OF THE SOUTH ISLAND
The Northern tip of the South Island is also home to a large proportion of our remaining Hector’s Dolphins. Alongside Akaroa and Kaikoura, this area provides the best chance for one to encounter a Hector’s Dolphin. However, net-fishing is also common in this area. Pictured below are the current areas which ban trawl net fishing (blue is permanent and red is seasonal). The seasonal ban is an interesting compromise between fishers and conservationists; It protects Hector’s Dolphins in the times they are most likely to be in those areas, whilst still giving Fishers a chance to make a livelihood. The seasonal ban could be an immediate but temporary solution for waters which are currently open to fishers all-year round. This would reduce the chances of Hector’s dolphins being caught as New Zealand gradually transitions to complete bans in waters less than 100M deep. This is what the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has recommended, and we currently remain within the 8% of countries which have ignored their advice.
THE SOUTHERN TIP
The bottom of the South Island is home to the smallest population of Hector’s Dolphins, possibly in the low hundreds. However, fishing is a popular industry in Southern towns, and dolphins have certainly been caught in fishing nets in these areas. The Northern and Southern tips of the South Island have had some expansions to restrictions, similar to what will happen around Banks Peninsula. Further restrictions to Trawl-netting (such as smaller net openings and a slower speed) may be enforced in additional areas.
Globally, scientists are saying we need to put aside 30% of our oceans for biodiversity to remain. Only 0.4% of the ocean New Zealand control is protected, according to Livia Esterhazy (WWF NZ). Hector’s Dolphins are far more than a beautiful animal for humans to enjoy. They are an apex predator and without them, the entire ecosystem of New Zealand’s coasts would crumble. If states like California and countries like Finland can fully ban set-nets, what’s New Zealand’s excuse?
WHAT CAN YOU DO RIGHT NOW?
Did you know that there is less than a week left for public submissions to the Ministry for Primary Industries? Please click on this link, follow the instructions, and in less than 3 minutes, YOU can make a difference. If enough like-minded people email their opinions on their Threat Management Plan, (we have a template you can use) the MPI will have to listen and make positive changes.
Fair to say, the Hector’s and Maui dolphins are still in need of urgent help.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has recently asked the public to help them decide how Hector’s dolphins can be further protected from fishing nets around the South Island. They’ve outlined 4 options, and in this blog we will explain why option 4 is the best for saving lives, whilst also asking for additional measures to be added.
Anyone, including you, can submit which option they support and why. It is due by 6 December 2021 and can be submitted via email dolphinTMP@mpi.govt.nz or by this survey.
If you want more information on the four options, you can read the Ministry for Primary Industries 50 page report, or watch this video (starts at 5.15) but we’ve summarised it below.
We’ve been advocating for additional protection for the dolphins for some time. Some new fishing restrictions were brought in last year, but they were far from perfect. You can read more about our take on the 2020 protections here.
In particular, we were very concerned that the plan opened up a ‘death zone’ off Akaroa Harbour. As of now, fishers can use nets outside of Akaroa Harbour. And is some months inside the harbour too.
The Options from Ministry for Primary Industries
Do nothing. The Ministry themselves accept this is not an option.
A plan to ‘work together’. Fishers will try to stop catching dolphins, and when they do, they must report it. This involves the use of monitoring cameras on fishers’ boats. If they keep catching dolphins, the ministry will give advice and maybe suggest some extra preventative measures. The issue here is that there are no enforced obligations to change fishing habits. It might take years for real change to take place. In the meantime, dolphins will continue to die. It’s like choosing not to install fire alarms in your first home. Then, only after it burns down, do you decide it’s a good time to take some preventative measures. It’s too little, too late.
Will look at making some changes to trawl fishing in certain areas of the South Island. Namely, reducing the speed of boats with nets attached (to 4kph), and making the net opening smaller (1M height). These measures, as admitted by the report itself, may not even make a difference. The success of these supposed ‘preventive’ measures are all based on seven anecdotes from fishers. This is an extremely small sample of evidence, which also has no scientific backing. We’d rather not put our faith in a maybe.
Not only this, but option 3 keeps the death zone right outside of Akaroa harbour open. Look at the maps below. The yellow areas on the left map show the current areas where trawl fishing is banned. The map on the right shows orange areas where extra restrictions will be imposed, but the gap between the orange creates another death zone. Given what we’ve said about the doubt we have of these restrictions, this option has few merits overall.
Increases the areas which ban set nets, as seen in the figure below. This means larger areas where dolphins are safe from set-nets, which can make an immediate difference to the number of dolphins caught. The extended areas can be seen in the dark blue areas highlighted in the map below. This is good news and one which Black Cat Cruises and the Ministry for Primary Industries support. While it’s the best option of the four, it is still lacking. For a start, it makes no changes to trawl-net fishing, which is just as dangerous. Trawl-fishers will continue operating right outside of Akaroa harbour.
What we’re going to ask for on top of Option 4
All four options are written on the basis that a certain amount of ‘by catch’ is acceptable to New Zealanders. We don’t think that’s right. The plan calls for a goal to catch/kill around 33 dolphins a year on the East Coast of the South Island each year. It’s claimed that’s a sustainable goal and it will maintain the population of dolphins to 80% of historic levels. We want to stop the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of dolphins, and in doing so make the population soar back to 100% of historic levels.
If we’re serious about making a real positive impact on the dolphins, there should have been an additional option….
The International Union for conservation of nature (ICUN) made a clear recommendation years ago. They called for consistent protection throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep; a ban to set and trawl net fishing in these areas. The map below shows what they have in mind, with red being areas that can be net-fished commercially, and green being areas where net fishing is banned.
At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2021, the Director General said that the vast majority of IUCN Resolutions have been acted on. Only 8% of the Resolutions are being ignored by the relevant countries. Unfortunately, New Zealand is part of this group of 8%. This is an embarrassment.
We will ask for the ICUN’s option to be added to the proposed list, as the other options do not make enough of a difference. Also, the plan is completely silent on the ability to be able to set nets in the upper parts of Akaroa and Lyttelton harbours, Pigeon Bay and Port Levy from April to September which we know are a clear threat to dolphins. That is very disappointing, and we will ask for these areas to be specifically banned to all net-fishing.
Whilst we appreciate the ability to engage further on dolphin protection, the options (with the exception of closing the death zone) won’t have much impact on dolphin protection.
We have chosen to focus this blog post primarily on the areas surrounding Banks Peninsula. This is because it’s the area directly relevant to Black Cat Cruises, and where we have the most experience with the current issues of ‘bycatching’. Continue to follow our social media for a blog post in the future which addresses bycatching nation-wide.
We need a future-focused conservation option. We need more significant protection. We need the population of Hector’s Dolphins to soar above the endangered level. We need the option to implement full protection out to 100m in depth (where Hector’s Dolphins live).
What would we like you to do now?
If you’d like to consult on the plan, please go ahead. Add your voice to the conversation. Black Cat Cruises will be supporting option 4, and asking for additional protection in line with the IUCN option – limiting nets throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep.
We understand that fishers need to catch fish. However, putting bans in these small areas, which are already so close to the shore, will keep our beautiful native dolphin species alive.
Learn about the Hector’s dolphin both on and off the water…….
Did you know that we can now provide a free Education Programme focused on Hector’s dolphin to all Kiwi schools and students thanks to all of our customers.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU……
Every cruise or swim with the Hector’s dolphin helps go towards the education and research of Hector’s dolphins. And because of that we have funded and developed a nine week lesson plan aimed at curriculum level 3 students, that includes both a teachers guide and students handbook to help educate and inspire the next generation of young kiwi’s to care for their place, the ocean and it’s inhabitants.
We will also send a Black Cat Cruises Skipper to all Christchurch and Banks Peninsula based schools to carry out a lesson in person should they wish. This will be at no charge to the school.
In addition if any participating school wishes to add a personal wildlife encounter to the education programme we can offer a heavily discounted nature cruise in either Akaroa harbour or Lyttelton harbour.
What better way than to bring the classroom to life out on the water.
The education programme is available nationwide so if you know of any teachers that may like to find out about this please share this blog post with them!
This embodies our Tiaki promise and company values to operate as a leading eco-tourism business that is both sustainable and future focused.
Celebrate Seaweek 2020 by cruising stunning Lyttelton Harbour with Black Cat Cruises and the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust! Each cruise will also host a very special expert guest from the trust, so you can you learn directly from the scientists studying Hector’s dolphins.
What is Seaweek?
Seaweek – Kaupapa Moana is New Zealand’s annual national week celebrating the sea which takes place from Saturday 29 February to Sunday 8 March 2020.
Seaweek Lyttelton Harbour Cruise
Step aboard our spacious catamaran, Canterbury Cat and search for the endangered Hector’s dolphin as you’re taken on a guided cruise around Lyttelton Harbour along with a special scientific guest from the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust.
The cruise will last for 1.5 hours and all profits will be donated to the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust.
29 February 2020 7 March 2020 8 March 2020
1:30PM – 3:00PM
Adults: $30.00 Children (5-15 years): $20.00 Children under 5: FREE