Earthwatch Adventures – Dolphins of New Zealand – Part 5
Some of the whale adventures also involved dolphins, but a few Earthwatch expeditions have focused almost entirely on them. One great expedition was NEW ZEALAND DOLPHINS out of Kaikura on the South Island, working with the wonderfully acrobatic dusky dolphins! They take advantage of the rich feeding grounds in the deep trench just off shore that is also frequented by sperm whales and has been featured in a TV search for the giant squid! The dolphins of New Zealand feed in the deep water at night and then congregate in the shallow bays during the day to rest and socialize.
My long flight was through Aukland to Christchurch where I rested up in that pleasant and scenic little city (before the recent earthquake damage) and then took a bus north to Kaikura where I met Constantine and Yin, the research scientists, and the other volunteers. We stayed in a well-equipped house on a peninsula with great views of bays on both sides and scenic mountains to the west. Each day we split into two teams, with one manning a shore station and the other team going out by boat, to monitor the large groups of dusky dolphins. Sometimes there were as many as 300 in the bay! At the shore station we used a theodolite attached to a computer to track the groups of dolphins and all boat activity in the area. From the boat we observed and recorded dolphin behavior, took ID photos and did hydrophone recordings The duskies are a lot of fun to work with! They are very sociable, come right up to the boat, put on acrobatic displays and like to play with the hydrophone!
One of the concerns that we were researching was the effect of tour boats and people who want to swim with wild dolphins. Too much activity and too many boats may seriously disrupt their rest and socializing so, based on their observations the Earthwatch scientists have made recommendations to the local tour operators on how to approach the dolphins and limiting the hours of contact and number of boats. The operators have been very cooperative and the limitations are working out very well! The approach is now to the side of the group so that when swimmers enter the water the interested dolphins swim to meet them and the main group is not disturbed. None of the tour boats stay with the dolphins past noon and the number of boats in an area is limited to three, including our research boat!
After the expedition I took a unique one week tour around the South Island where all of my transportation and lodging was pre-arranged and hotel/motel owners would meet me at the bus or train station and take me back for the next leg. In Invercargill the owner told me that the Bluff oysters were in and when I was ready for dinner he’d take me to the best restaurant. I accepted, had a great meal of oysters prepared three different ways and when I was finished the waitress called him to pick me up! On the tour I saw the little Hector’s dolphins, little blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, New Zealand fur seals and an albatross nesting area. Also other scenic sights such as Tasman National Park, the Pancake Rocks, Milford and Doubtful Sounds, Queenstown and Mt. Cook. I found the New Zealanders to be invariably friendly and helpful and I would highly recommend a visit! It was also nice to learn more and help the dolphins of New Zealand.