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Kaikoura Dolphins

Kaikoura is New Zealand's leading location for marine wildlife and has been rated as the best place in the world to swim with dolphins.

Dolphin Encounter has a proven track record established over more than 30 years of operating for being a well-respected and environmentally responsible eco-tour operator.

We are confident that we can introduce you to the world of the dusky dolphins and know that you will leave Kaikoura with a renewed sense of awe of the pristine natural environment. The grace, beauty and curiosity of these most sociable and acrobatic dolphins will take your breath away! Either of the tour options we offer whether it is swimming with the dolphins or watching the dolphins are renowned as world class experiences.

The dusky dolphin (lagenorhynchus obscurus) belongs to a group known as cetaceans and includes all whales, dolphins and porpoises. The word cetacean is derived from the Latin, cestus (a large sea animal) and the Greek, ketos (sea monster).

Currently there are 81 recognised species of cetacean comprising of 11 species of baleen whale and 70 species of toothed whales which includes all dolphins and porpoises. The dolphin family known as delphinidae, is made up of 33 different members.

Dusky Dolphins

Dusky Dolphins

Kaikoura's special dolphin species is the dusky dolphin.

Dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) can be found all year round along the east coast of the South Island with some variation in location and habits between the summer and winter months. In the warmer months of October to May, the duskies will move inshore in the early morning each day to the southern side of the Kaikoura Peninsula. During the winter months of June to September the duskies are located further off shore and tend to range over a greater area of the coastline.
Hectors Dolphins

Hectors Dolphins

The Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), is endemic to the coastal waters of New Zealand.

Hector’s dolphins have a rounded black dorsal fin and their bodies are a distinctive grey, with white and black markings and a short snout. They produce just one calf every two to three years. Along the Kaikoura coast, they can be found in close coastal waters and it is not uncommon to see them around the Kaikoura Peninsula and along the beaches that stretch to the north and south of the peninsula.
Common Dolphins

Common Dolphins

While Common Dolphin sightings are mainly in the summer, winter sightings are not uncommon.

Common dolphins (Delphinus delphus) are seen in Kaikoura mainly in the summer time, although winter sightings are not uncommon and usually associated with pods of dusky dolphins. The common dolphin species found in New Zealand waters are known as the short-beaked common dolphin and they have a very distinctive colouration. The common dolphin is a medium-sized dolphin, similar in size to the dusky dolphin.


Orca (Orcinus orca) or killer whales, travel through the coastal waters of Kaikoura intermittently throughout the year, but particularly during the warmer months of September through to April.

Orca are the largest of the dolphin species reaching lengths of up to 9m and males weighing as much as 5,000 kg and females around 2,500 kg. Orca when spotted on dolphin tours are often a highlight for those lucky enough to see them, but due to their unpredictability, we can never tell when we are going to see them, so they are very much a chance encounter.