What makes this dolphin special?

Hector's dolphins are members of the family 'delphinidae' - there are about 32 species of dolphins found throughout the world. The Hector's is the smallest oceanic dolphin with female adults only reaching about 1.2 to 1.4 metres long and weighing approx. 47 kilograms, while the males are slightly smaller and weigh about 10 kilograms less. By comparison the largest of all dolphins, the huge Orca or Killer Whale is many times larger, and the bottle nose dolphin grow to the length of a small family car.

Hector dolphin in Akaroa Harbour

Where are they found?

The total population of Hector's dolphins is somewhere between  5,000 and 7,000. Around 900 dolphins make their home around Banks Peninsula and they often come into Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbours. These two places are, without doubt, the best places to view these beautiful dolphins, however Hector’s dolphins range right around the South Island with many being found off the South Island’s West Coast.


What do they do all day?

Hector's dolphins of all ages spend a lot of time playing. They surf a lot at beaches when seas are quite rough. In calmer weather a favourite game is playing with bits of seaweed. The Dolphin will carry it until it falls off or until some other dolphin "steals it". They have even been seen playing with bits of floating sticks and leaves. Hector's are very curious and people friendly which is why they like to visit boats.

Two Hector's Dolphins jumping in Akaroa Harbour

What do Hector's eat?

A large part of the day is taken up with feeding. They use "echo-location" to find their food, sending out high frequency clicks and listening for returning echoes. The echoes can tell them how far away a fish is, what kind of fish it is and how fast it is moving. Echo-location gives dolphins a way to "see with sound" in murky waters, where eyesight isn't much help. Hector's dolphins on the East Coast have been found to eat mainly arrow squid, Ahuru, red cod, sole, yellow-eyed mullet, stargazer and sprat.

Mother and calf Hector Dolphin

What can we do to help protect Hector's Dolphins?

Firstly come for an Akaroa Harbour cruise with us to really appreciate how special the dolphins are. We'll tell you all about them too, but there is nothing like seeing them for yourself to get a full appreciation.

Part of your ticket price goes towards dolphin research and education. Other things you can do to help the dolphins is support the Department of Conservation as they find new ways to protect the species, including more marine mammal sanctuaries, which will stop dolphins being killed in set nets. DOC also opposes marine mussel farms which may impact the dolphin’s habitat.

If you own your own boat, and see the Hector's Dolphin, ask the driver to slow down to avoid turning suddenly. Do not chase the dolphins. Often, if you simply stop the boat, they will come and see you. Avoid using set nets (also called gillnets) close to shore, where the dolphins are most common. If you ever see a Hector's Dolphin stranded on the beach, call the Department of Conservation, they would like to hear about it.

Hector Dolphins swimming in Akaroa


  1. What is unusual about a Hector's Dolphins dorsal fin?
  2. What is the longest length that they can grow?
  3. Why does this make them special?
  4. What is the estimated population?
  5. What is an average life expectancy of a Hector's Dolphin?
  6. How many kilograms of food does an average Hector's Dolphin eat in one day?
  7. Name two things a Hector's Dolphin eats?
  8. How do they catch fish in the murky waters?
  9. What months of the year do Hector's Dolphins calve?
  10. What natural predators do the Hector's Dolphin have?
  11. What is one of the main reasons for the decrease in population of the Hector's Dolphin?
  12. How has human intervention helped to get the population back on the increase?

Think you know the answers?

Show answers

  1. It is round
  2. 1.4m (about 5 feet)
  3. Smallest dolphin species in the world
  4. 7000
  5. Around 19 - 24 years
  6. 4kg (8 lb)
  7. Squid, cod, sole, mullet, stargazer, sprat
  8. Echolocation
  9. October to February
  10. Orca, sevengill shark
  11. Set netting or gillnetting
  12. Banning set nets where dolphins live

The North Island Hector’s dolphin has been renamed ‘Maui’s dolphin’ after the Maori god Maui who legend has it fished up the North Island from the sea (the South Island was his waka or canoe). A set net ban has also been put in place in the area where the dolphins live. Maui’s dolphins have an estimated population of 150, where Hector’s dolphins are thought to number 7,000 around the South Island.

Life may seem idyllic for Hector’s dolphins, but they do have natural predators. These are mainly Sevengill Sharks, Blue Sharks and Orca. The biggest threat to the dolphins comes from the net fishing activity of humans. These unintentionally trap dolphins underwater so they cannot come up for air and drown


We are proud to follow the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1978 and the Marine Mammal Protection Regulations 1992.
These ensure the marine mammals of New Zealand are protected and that their conservation is a top priority.
Our interactions with marine mammals adhere to all regulations and our conservation focused tours, educate and raise awareness.


Get the latest news on wildlife sightings, special offers and events.

We'd love to keep in touch with you! We have an information packed newsletter which goes out via email once every two months.
You can click here to see examples from previous months.