Whales play off Dunedin coast

For the first time I saw whales off the coast of Dunedin yesterday (actually 6 km south of Brighton). It was a southern right whale mother and her calf, the mother just floating barely visible most of the time, but the calf spent some time jumping and breaching. They were not far offshore, just beyond the very tame waves.  We watched for maybe half and hour, a thrilling experience.

It is probably the same whales that came right into Otago harbour last weekend – ODT: Whale calf probably born off the NZ coast

The southern right whale calf seen in Otago Harbour was probably born off the New Zealand coast, a rare occurrence researchers hope will become increasingly common.

A mother and calf thrilled locals and tourists at the weekend as they swam near Aramoana and Deborah Bay, among other locations.

I missed that, but yesterday, having not long got home from a walk at the beach just north of Brighton, saw on Facebook that there was a sighting of probably the same whales between Brighton and Taieri Mouth. So we went for a drive. With the help of updates on Facebook we found a bunch of parked cars and people peering seaward. So I found a place to park and found a good possie – the road runs close to the coast for kilometres there. This was mid-afternoon Saturday (11 August 2018).

Timing was good – just as I got to as small cliff edge the whale calf started to jump. It had a good play for about ten or fifteen minutes, not far offshore just outside some benign breakers. It’s mother was just floating around, sometimes submerged, sometimes rising enough to blow and breathe.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, water, outdoor and nature

Photo – Megan Douglas

Image may contain: ocean, water and outdoor

Photo – Craig Latimer

After a while the calf calmed down and floated around with it’s mother, which occasionally waved a flipper.

It was really nice to experience them so close to land, probably oblivious to perhaps 50-100 people dotted along the coast watching with amazement and joy.

Image may contain: ocean, water, outdoor and nature

Photos from the Dunedin News and Saddle Hill Community Board’s Facebook pages (I took some video on my phone but it isn’t good enough to show).


There were three or four notable sightings of calves being born ”haphazardly” around the coast of New Zealand in the past decade.

It was likely the calf was born off the coast of New Zealand as the animals had an ”off-shore, on-shore” migration rather than the north to south movements of some other whales, such as humpbacks.

Pre-whaling numbers of southern right whales were estimated to be 27,000, but were reduced to a low of less than 100 whales in 1925.

A 2013 estimate was about 2200.

This is the first time I’ve seen whales in Dunedin. I’ve done the whale watch twice at Kaikoura, the second time a few months before the earthquakes there.

The Kaikoura experiences were certainly worthwhile. As as well as seeing a couple of humpbacks floating for a few minutes (actually a small par of their back, and blowing occasionally) before flipping their tail and diving, there was a bonus of seeing a heap of dolphins close up. The down side was feeling quite queasy afterwards.

But my whale experience yesterday was better. It wasn’t quite as close up, but it was from the stability of shore. And it was for quite a bit longer, with the calf putting on a great show for 10-15 minutes.

It’s good to see sea mammals returning after being close to wiped out 200 years ago. Seal numbers have increased markedly over the last thirty years, a population of sea lions have established themselves around Otago Peninusula over the past few years are are easy to view – try Allens Beach and especially Victory Beach (quite a long walk). It depends on the time of year and they aren’t always there.

And it is easy to see penguins (blue as well as yellow eyed) around Dunedin as well as north and south – my best yellow eyed penguin experience is at Moeraki lighhouse, but I last saw one in June at Curio Bay in the far south (Catlins).

But it is especially good to see whales so close to shore.

Published on Aug 11, 2018

This is a ‘baby’ Southern White whale breaching several times off the Otago coast of NZ. It is not a ‘video’ but a collage of photos I took.


  1. robertguyton

     /  August 12, 2018

    You are very fortunate to have seen whales, Pete; I envy you the experience.

    • Gezza

       /  August 12, 2018

      Me too. Lucky man PG. We get orcas in Welly Harbour every now & then but I’ve never seen a whale in the flesh & these big whales would be even more enthralling.

      The closest I’ve come so has been being almost able to reach out and touch one of about half a dozen dolphins racing alongside our launch on the way back to Plimmerton Harbour from Mana Island. I never thought to whip out my cellcam until the last minute when they suddenly all veered off, & these days it would be set for video first up – I never used to video. We were travelling at speed — I couldn’t believe how fast they were & how joyful they seemed to be just to be racing with us.

      I love watching the eels in my stream. They’re getting active again. Getting up close to only a couple of feet away to video them has been fascinating too. To watch these guys undulating as they move or hover in the stream flow is awesome. They might be a bit on the ugly side but their blue eyes looking at me has been thrilling – a powerful but graceful fish.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  August 12, 2018

        I have seen whales at Kaikoura as I passed through. It’s hard not to think of them as being fish; they look like fish and live in the water.I have seen dolphins, but not close up.

        I used to see seals and penguins and still envy the man I knew who met a little penguin walking towards him in the street. Lucky sod. How anyone could go close enough to a seal to sealnap it as someone did is a mystery, they have appalling BO. One is driven back by it. Eau Sewage rather than Eau Sauvage.

        Eels live near me, but I haven’t see their blue eyes ! Blue-eyed eels ! Carp abound, too. They are HUGE.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  August 12, 2018

          Google has photos of blue-eyed eels.

          • Gezza

             /  August 12, 2018

            Ella, December last – being told she’s a beautiful blue-eyed girl …

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  August 12, 2018

              There were two or three photos of eels that showed their blue eyes. I would have expected them to be black.

  2. Zedd

     /  August 12, 2018

    cool pix.. 🙂

  3. A collage, added to the post.

  4. Trevors_elbow

     /  August 12, 2018

    Cool.. the whale in Wellington harbour was cool to see..

    Just be careful swimming off Dunedins beaches.. as Seal numbers rise so will the presence of Great White Sharks and the sharks learning to hunt seals make mistakes. California is experiencing this

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  August 12, 2018

    Was sailing out to Great Barrier one Friday night and as we got near to the entrance of Man of War passage it was still very dark before dawn and I was mucking about waiting for some light to go through the passage. Then I heard blowings around me and was worried it might be whales that I might run into. But as it got light they turned out to be a pod of big dolphins so I didn’t need to worry, they were much faster than me with much better radar. Quite surreal in the dark though. I’ve seen lots of dolphins sailing but never a whale.