Hector's Dolphins

 The Hector's dolphin is only found off the coast of New Zealand, which means it is endemic to New Zealand.


There are just 8000 Hector’s dolphins left in the world.

Here are some tips on how you can help them –
• Do not litter – rubbish can easily make its way to the sea where a dolphin may get tangled in it or mistakenly think it is food and eat it – Yuk!
• Make sure only water goes down storm water drains – keep pollutants out of the ocean!
• If you visit the beach and see some rubbish, please pick it up and put it in the bin so it doesn’t go in the sea.

The Hector's dolphin are one of the rarest dolphins in the world. Maui's (North Island Hector's Dolphin) are the world's rarest - not a title to envy! Our Hector’s dolphin is one of the smallest dolphins in the world – it can fit inside a bathtub.

So why isn’t it called a fish?
It’s a dolphin because its part of a group of animals called mammals, just like us.

We know they are mammals because:

>> they have warm blood
>> they breathe from the air
>> they suckle milk from their mother

The dolphin is part of a special group of mammals that have no hind limbs, and a blowhole for breathing. This group includes toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Where do Hector’s dolphins live?
The North Island and South Island Hector's dolphins are separate subspecies. The North island ones are called Maui’s dolphin. This means they look different, and they have different genes.

There are only about 8000 South Island Hector's dolphins alive in the world. They live around the coast of the South Island, but mainly on the West coast and around Christchurch.

A small group of Maui's dolphins live off the coast of the North Island, mostly between Kawhia and Muriwai. There are 111 Maui’s dolphins left in the world. 


How do you spot a Hector’s dolphin?

  • Of all the dolphins seen in New Zealand waters, Hector’s dolphins are the only ones with a rounded dorsal fin. It’s a bit like a Mickey Mouse ear.
  • They are very small. An adult Hector’s dolphin grows to a length of 1.2 to 1.4 metres, compared with 4 metres for the bottlenose, 3.4 metres for the striped dolphins and the Dusky dolphins 2 metres.
  • The Hector’s does not have a bottle-shaped snout. The forehead of the Hector’s slopes down to the tip, so it does not create a protruding beak like the bottlenose dolphin.
  • The colour scheme of the Hector’s dolphin is well defined with areas of grey, black and white.
  • The sides of the head, the flippers, dorsal fin and the tail are all black. The belly is white except for a small area between the flippers. There is also a distinctive finger-like swoosh of white that extends from the belly, along the flanks towards the tail. The rest of the body is grey.

Facts, facts, facts

• The scientific name for the Hector’s dolphin is Cephalorhynchus hectori
• Hector’s dolphins are members of the family delphinidae, of which there are 32 species worldwide.
• The Hector’s dolphin is the smallest in the delphinidae family and the smallest sea-living dolphin, as well as one of the rarest oceanic species.
• Female Hector’s dolphins are usually 1.2 – 1.4 metres long and weigh about 45 kilograms, males are a little smaller and weigh about 10 kilograms less than the females.
• Hector’s dolphins feed on fish and other sea creatures found in shallow water with a sandy bottom, such as flounder, red cod, mackerel, crabs and squid.
• They use echo-location to locate their prey – it’s like seeing with sound. Dolphins send out a stream of high frequency clicking noises and when the sound strikes an object it bounces back and the dolphin can tell by listening what the object is - what kind of fish it is, how far away it is and how fast it is moving. That’s pretty clever!
• In familiar areas the dolphins will travel with their echo-location 'turned off'
• The Hector’s dolphin was given ‘threatened species’ status by the Department of Conservation in December 1999.


  • If you see a Hector’s dolophin in the North Island (called a Maui’s dolphin) please tell the Department of Conservation immediately by calling freephone: 0800 DOCHOT (0800 362468).