New Zealand Wildlife - Orca Killer Whales at Akaroa

A group of Orca (Killer Whales) were spotted by a lucky boat-load of passengers on a cruise in Akaroa Harbor yesterday. A Black Cat Cruises photographer described the encounter as "the best Orca sighting we've ever had" with the inquisitive whales swimming around their boat for 20 minutes. Many of our self drive itineraries include a visit to Akaroa and a 'swim with the dolphins' cruise option.
Orca Killer Whales visit Akaroa Harbor, South Island, New Zealand.

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Killer whales can often be seen at locations in both the North and South islands of New Zealand. Sadly, most knowledge about the species originate from infrequent strandings, one of which was described in our blog of February 20, 2017.

Facts About Killer Whales in New Zealand

Weight - Males can weigh up to 22,000 pounds; females can weigh up to 16,500 pounds

Length - Males can reach 32 feet; females can reach 28 feet

Appearance - Black on top with white undersides and white patches near their eyes; there's a highly variable gray or white saddle behind the dorsal fin; these markings are unique across individuals and populations

Lifespan - Up to 50-100 years: males typically live for about 30 years, but can live as long as 50-60 years; females typically live about 50 years, but can live as long as 100 years

Diet - Varies (diet is often geographic or population specific), can include fish, marine mammals, sharks, and sea birds

Behavior - Orca's are highly social animals, living within matriarchal societies. They rely on underwater sound for orientation, feeding, and communication. They produce whistles and pulsed calls for communication and maintaining group cohesion. Killer whales are generally considered monotypic (belonging to one species). However, recent genetic studies have led many biologists to now consider the existence of multiple species or subspecies of killer whales worldwide.

The adult males develop much larger pectoral flippers, dorsal fins, tail flukes, and girths than the females.

Female killer whales reach sexual maturity when they grow to about 15-18 feet long, depending on geographic region. The gestation period for killer whales varies from 15-18 months. Birth may take place in any month; there is no distinct calving season. Calves are nursed for at least 1 year, and may be weaned between 1-2 years old. The birth rate for killer whales is not well understood, but, in some populations, is estimated as every 5 years for an average period of 25 years.

Killer whales are highly social animals that occur primarily in relatively stable social groups that often range in size from 2 to 15 animals. Larger groups occasionally form, but are usually considered temporary groupings of smaller social units that probably congregate for seasonal concentrations of prey, social interaction, or mating. 

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A short video of the Akaroa encounter can be seen here. You can also read about our visit to Aakaroa Harbor in December 2016 by clicking here.

If you would like the opportunity to enjoy an Orca viewing cruise when in New Zealand, advise us by clicking here.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Jan 10, 2017