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Hector’s dolphin spotted off Northland, Auckland coastline

Residents in Northland and Auckland are being urged to report sightings of Hector’s dolphins after a solitary dolphin was spotted north of its usual range.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Technical Advisor, Kristina Hillock says a single Hector’s dolphin – distinguishable by its rounded fin – was spotted in Mahurangi Harbour on Friday.

A second sighting of a Hector’s dolphin – potentially the same animal – was seen near Whangarei’s Onarahi Beach on Sunday and Monday (4 and 5 September). On Tuesday it was spotted swimming up the far end of the Whangarei River.

If DOC can get staff close enough, they will attempt to take a small skin sample from the animal. The skin sample would provide genetic information that would help determine which sub-species and population the animal has come from.

“It’s very unusual to see Hector’s dolphins this far north on the east coast of the North Island,” Ms Hillock says.

“Although we get very occasional reports of Hector’s around the east coast of the North Island such as Hawke’s Bay and Coromandel, their usual habitat is around the South Island.”

The most recent report of Hector’s outside their usual range was in 2020, when a small group of Hector’s were spotted off the coast of Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach. DOC says there have been a handful of sightings reported from the Hauraki Gulf over the years, but most of these have been unable to be confirmed and none have been as far north as Whangarei.

“We’re particularly keen to get more reports of sightings from the east coast of the North Island, including Auckland and Northland, as it will help build our knowledge and understanding of the species,” said Ms Hillock.

She said people who spot Hector’s dolphins should report the date and time of the sighting, GPS co-ordinates (if available), the time they spent near the animals, the direction the animals are moving, and descriptions of the location and activity of the dolphins.

“Photographs and video are very helpful for us as well – it helps us confirm the dolphin species, and to look for identifying marks on individuals.”

“DOC’s message on Hector’s dolphin is ‘rounded fin, call it in’ – and people can do that by contacting our 0800 DOC HOT line, or by emailing marine@doc.govt.nz.”

Hector’s dolphins are classified as “nationally vulnerable”, with an estimated population of 15,700 individuals. Māui dolphins are classified as “nationally critical’ with an estimated 54 animals aged one year or more within the survey area on the west coast of the North Island.

They are grey and white, with black markings – the distinctive rounded fin, shaped like Mickey Mouse’s ear.

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