Into the Deep – The Sperm Whales of Kaikoura

Into the Deep - The Sperm Whales of Kaikoura
2:11 pm , August 10, 2015 Comments Off on Into the Deep – The Sperm Whales of Kaikoura


UPDATE: Kaikoura Earthquake November 2016
Our thoughts, best wishes and prayers are with everyone affected by the earthquakes that struck the northern areas of New Zealand’s South Island.
Please know that you have many friends around the world who are standing with you through this very tough time. We are all looking forward to seeing you back on your feet very soon. We also can’t wait to come back to visit and spend time with you in our beloved Kaikoura, one of the most beautiful and special places on Earth.
Best wishes and take care WS!


I’m often asked what my favourite whale is? Well that’s a difficult one. There’s the Minke’s for looks, Southern Rights for hanging in there, Blues just because wow, Humpbacks for joy and then there’s the Sperm Whale…

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Sperm Whale by Linda Cox

Largest of the toothed whales, largest brain of any animal, can hold its breath for hours, can dive thousands of metres to the depth of the oceans, has epic battles with eight meter long Giant Squid! I mean REALLY? Everything about the Sperm whale is amazing and also just a bit mysterious too.


A Sperm Whale recharges its blood with oxygen before diving back into the Kaikoura Canyon, Kaikoura NZ

Female Sperm Whales live in maternal pods ruled by a grandmother matriarch in the warmer water’s near the equator. At puberty the boys are kicked out of these pods and head into the cooler temperate waters, with mature bull males cruising deep into the Southern Ocean. Males are usually solitary but do form into bachelor pods.


A Sperm Whale begins another hunting dive back into the Kaikoura Canyon, Kaikoura NZ

Sperm whales specialise in deep water hunting and can easily dive to several thousand meters in search of prey. This means they are found far out to sea in the deep oceans and are not often seen close to land.


Looking back to the coast across South Bay (south of Kaikoura) with the spectacular Seaward Kaikoura Range in the background.

The Kaikoura Canyon
I’ve travelled to Kaikoura on New Zealand’s South Island because it is one of the few places on earth where Sperm Whales can be seen within a few kilometres of the coast. What makes Kaikoura so special is that New Zealand’s continental shelf drops over a 1000 metres into the Kaikoura Canyon only a few kilometres from the coast. The Kaikoura Canyon is U shaped, 60 kilometres long and up to 1200 meters deep. It leeds into the even larger 1500 kilometre long Hikurangi Channel and then out to the southwest Pacific Basin. 


A Sperm Whale recharges its blood with oxygen before diving back into the Kaikoura Canyon, Kaikoura NZ

These submarine canyons are a perfect hunting ground for Sperm Whales and a semi permanent bachelor pod gathers at Kaikoura most of the year. So much so that some of the whales have been named.

Tiaki – The Guardian. He is one of Kaikoura’s most dominant whales and has been known to look after younger sperm whales visiting Kaikoura.
Tutu – Special Ocean Dweller. This is the shortened version of the Maori word Tutumairekurai. Tutu’s dorsal fin is very similar in shape to a Hectors Dolphins which has been given this Maori name.
Manu – Birdie. When Manu dives the silhouette of his tail looks very much like a bird in flight.


A Sperm Whale begins another hunting dive back into the Kaikoura Canyon, Kaikoura NZ


A Sperm Whale raises its head showing its very distant blow hole, Kaikoura NZ

The rich waters of Kaikoura are not only home to Sperm Whales but Dusky and Hectors Dolphins call Kaikoura home. Humpback, Southern Right, Blue and Killer Whales also migrate through the area as well.


A Dusky Dolphin cuts through the water, Kaikoura NZ


A Humpback Whales dives in South Bay, Kaikoura NZ


A Humpback Whales dives in South Bay, Kaikoura NZ

Whale Watch Kaikoura 
Kaikoura and whales go a very long way back! Māori legend tells the story of Kahutia-te-rangi who is an of ancestor of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Porou, Māori tribes in the South Island and east coast of New Zealand’s North Island who was saved from an attempt on his life by his half-brother Ruatapu by a humpback whales (paikea). In remembrance of this he took the name Paikea ‘The Whale Rider’.


‘Paikea’ One of Whale Watch Kaikoura’s customer designed whale watching boats.

Today it would seem only natural that whale watching would become a primary tourist industry in the area but it took the very tough economic times of the 1980’s and the vision of local Māori elders such as Bill Solomon to follow the example of their great ancestor Paikea ‘The Whale Rider’ and set up Whale Watch Kaikoura.


‘Aoraki’ Another of Whale Watch Kaikoura’s customer designed whale watching boats

Since then Whale Watch Kaikoura has grown into a multiple award winning business that is renowned as one of New Zealand’s premier tourism experiences.


On board we learn more about the Sperm Whales and what makes Kaikoura such a special place


Listening in on the whales helps the crews locate the whales


Checking out one of the local Seal Colonies

Whale watching trips leave daily depending on weather and sea conditions. Please see Whale Watch Kaikoura’s website for current conditions and trip availability. WWK Website


Whale Watch Kaikoura Centre, Kaikoura NZ

Whale Watch Kaikoura

The ‘Whaleway’ Station
Whaleway Road, Kaikoura (KWW)

I would like to thank Lisa Bond, Marketing Manager and all the staff and crews from Whale Watch Kaikoura for all their great support, advise and encouragement in creating this page.


A Sperm Whale lifts its talk as it begins to dive, Kaikoura NZ


Camera Gear
Nikon D610 with Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f4G ED VR

Nikon D7200 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens
The camera gear was kept safe and dry in a Lowepro DryZone DF 20L waterproof duffle bag.
Sirui W-2204 Waterproof Tripod with Sirui K-20X 

Thanks to Nikon Australia for their continued support and encouragement! Nikon Australia
Thanks to Maxwell International Australia for all your wonderful support and guidance with Lowepro camera bags. Lowepro
Thanks to Mainline Photographics for all your wonderful support with Siri tripods. Mainline Photographics


A Sperm Whale begins to dive, Kaikoura NZ


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