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

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If you’ve never had an experience involving a dolphin, it should, in my humble opinion be right up there on your bucket list!

Dolphins are a unique group of mammals; in fact their ability in the water is so astounding that it gave rise to ‘Grays Paradox’; where-by in 1936, British zoologist Sir James Gray hypothesised that “the high speeds and accelerations dolphins produce with their [relatively] small muscle mass, is insufficient to overcome the drag forces of water”! Basically he thought they defied the laws of physics!

As a direct result, what followed has been nearly 80 years of research into these fascinating animals that has not only advanced our understanding of the species, but of fluid dynamics itself!

The dolphin’s characteristic body, with its rounded front, crescent moon shape fins and fluke and slowly tapering tail, is nearly perfect at displacing water and minimising the effects of ‘form drag’ (caused by the friction of fluid on their skin). Like that of an elongated teardrop this ‘fusiform shape’ has a maximum thickness 34-45% the length of their body; which is so efficient it actually modifies the water as it swims, a by-product of which is something called ‘drafting’.
Drafting is defined as “the transfer of forces between individuals without actual physical contact between them”, and dolphins have figured out how to take advantage of this between mum and calf…

As the mother moves through the water at high speed, the pressure of water around her drops, this results in an attractive force called ‘Bernoulli suction’ that pulls mother and calf together!
It also creates the ‘displacement effect’; as the mother swims it causes the water in front of her to move forwards and out and the water behind her to move in and replace it. So by swimming next to her midsection in the forward-moving water young dolphins can gain a ‘free ride’ and save up to 60% of the energy they would need to keep up with mum!
Dolphin body shape is inspiring a redesign in both the aeronautical and naval industries as wing, hull and fuselage designs are taking into consideration ways to minimise drag, increase lift and save fuel, just like a dolphin. In fact the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK (along with major aviation manufacturers) is investigating flying passenger jets in formation to take advantage of drafting in the same way as a dolphin mother and calf.

But dolphin-inspired research hasn’t stopped there; magnifying the lens even further dolphin skin has even captivated scientists and biomimics alike, for 3 main reasons:

Dolphin skin cell production occurs at a rate 250–290 times that of humans! In fact some species shed their skin every 2 hours, up to 9 times quicker than we can! Early research theorised that the flaking skin broke down the turbulence around their bodies further minimising drag, but it is actually more likely it prevents build up of parasites and algae that would otherwise increase the effects of drag on their bodies by 4-times!
Most people would imagine their skin to be smooth, but researchers have found it’s not so; tiny ridge-like rings around their body (0.5-2mm apart) cover their body from head to tail. Initially it was thought the ridges might help channel the water, but they are so tightly packed with blood vessels and bundles of nerves they actually match the sensitivity of a human fingertip, eyelid or lip. It is more likely the ridges give the dolphin an ability to constantly sense each current, eddy and vortex in their watery world. But also create a surface that is difficult for parasites to attach to; reinforces the anti-fouling effect of shedding their skin.
And, as water rushes over them, their skin acts like elastic: rippling and undulating over the hard rubber-like blubber bellow. This may help cushion and absorb the effects of turbulent water; reducing drag by up to 7%!
As a result of these adaptive features, dolphin skin is inspiring biomimetic solutions to; reduce drag-inducing parasites/ algae on ships and submarines and ways to break up the effects of drag in water and air using microstructures to channelize flow and elastic layers to dampen turbulence on planes, boats and high performance vehicles.

The ultra-sonic clicks made famous by the series Flipper cant be ignored either! Dolphins can recognize a call of specific individuals up to 25 km’s away! By using several frequencies in each short burst of ultrasound, dolphins have found a way to cope with the challenges of passing sound long distances through water, and still get their message reliably heard. As a result a company called EvoLogics has developed a high-performance underwater modem that emulates dolphins’ unique acoustics! These devises are currently used in the tsunami early warning system throughout the Indian Ocean.

Lastly, the main time we see dolphins is when they surface to breath, leaping from the water and seemingly playing as they go. But there is much more to it than having a good time:

Just half a body length under water drag created by waves is 5-times the drag from friction deeper down! So, while maintaining high speeds, a dolphin leaps to the surface: “porpoising”. Models of porpoising show that at high speeds the energy needed to leap a given distance is lower than the energy needed to swim the same underwater; so ironically they leap to save energy and move quicker!
Also while underwater, during deep dives (more than 20m), dolphins can reduce energy costs by 20% by collapsing their lungs! Once collapsed their buoyancy reduces causing them to sink and glide rather than actively swim. When going back up the reverse happens and the dolphin actively swims up until its lungs re-inflate sufficiently to provide positive buoyancy to glide the rest of the way. How these might inspire biomimics in the future is yet to be seen…
And the list goes on…!

In fact, the inventory of adaptive features that dolphins have in order to manage their environment is almost endless; it’s easy to see how Gray and his paradox believed dolphins somehow challenged the very foundations of scientific thinking.

But each adaption, moulded over millions of years, are a sure sign we have a lot to learn from dolphins alone as each inspires new and exciting ways to adapt to the challenges fluids present to us.

Conserving and respecting these extraordinary creatures should be a priority for their success and, in fact for our own!

If you want to look further into Biomimicry you will find some great links here;


#AkaroaNZ A round up of Akaroa’s 1st ever InstaMeet

Last Saturday Black Cat Cruises in partnership with Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism and Kiwi Instagrammer Kyle Mulinder aka @barekiwi hosted Akaroa’s first ever instameet….and what a success it was!  We were overwhlemed with not only the wonderful mix of nationalites from Kiwi to Canadian that attended, but just how far some people had travelled! I mean seriously travelled…on planes, trains, automobiles and even a scooter all the way from Queenstown. All to visit our beauitful Akaroa, meet likeminded indiviudals whilst sailing out on the Black Cat to see and photograph the sunset over the pacific ocean. But before we go anyfurther i’m sure a few of you ( like we all did not too long ago) are asking the questions…..

What Exactly Is An InstaMeet?

”A group of instagrammers all meeting together to take photo’s, learn and network” – Plains Fm

In todays crowdsourced content culture Instagram has become one of the leading mediums driven by a passionate, dedicated and inspiring community. For us that means we not only get to share our beautiful slice of Akaroa Harbour and the surrounding wildlife, but allow our guests to create and curate their own content…..and we love it!

Plains Fm came along to report on the evening and created a fantastic podcast you can listen to here.

So what happens when you put an award winning eco-tourism operator, together with their regional tourism office, one of New Zealands most influential Instagrammers and over 70 inspirational and creative people on a boat….Take a look….

And The Result…

For us the Instameet has created a brand new tribe of inspirational advocates that have created stunning content that it still pouring through….

AkaroaNZ pics

To view all of the images use #AkaroaNZ on instagram

The Next Instameet

Visit www.christchurchnz.com/instameet to keep up to date with the future events

What you thought of us

In many ways we see ourselves as an entertainment company putting on a massive production. The backdrop is the wonderful scenery, the props the fantastic wildlife and the actors are our team. Every year we assess how you rate our production. This year was especially pleasing with our Swimming with Dolphins rated 9.3, Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruises at 9.3 and Christchurch Wildlife Cruises 9.4 (on average out of 10). We also asked how many people would recommend our cruises to friends and family. Those who answered quite or very likely were 99.5%, 98.1%, and 85% respectively.

How French is Akaroa?

We’ve been debating this question internally for a while now and we are interested in your thoughts. There is no doubt Akaroa has a French flavour and it is a unique part of New Zealand for that reason. But should we be doing more to make the most of this? And if so what are a few good ideas? Here is one journalists opinion on how Akaroa is almost French….

http://richardtulloch.wordpress.com/2010/ 05/25/akaroa-where-nouvelle-zelande-is-almost-french/


Black Cat Cruises is supporting the Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust with $24,000 worth of sponsorship over the next three years. Volunteers and trust workers travel to the island throughout the year to perform the important tree planting, weed eradication, nursery work and monitoring of the success of plant and animal re-introduction activity. The Trust aims to restoring the island to its former glory with native trees, birds, lizards and others animals.


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.