Top 5 Questions About Whale Watching

With 20 years’ experience watching whales and dolphins in the Hauraki Gulf, we’ve heard (almost) every question before! Here are our top 5 most frequently asked questions about whale watching…

1) When is the best time of year for whale watching?

We mean it when we say any time of the year! The most commonly seen whale species on our whale watching trips is the Bryde’s whale and they can be found here year-round. They are not known to travel long distances (migrate) like other whales (such as humpback whales).

Bryde’s whales are only commonly seen along the north-eastern coastline of the North Island, and we are in the hotspot for those sightings. We also have a species of dolphin that is seen in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park year round – the common dolphin.

There are chances to see other non-resident marine mammals on our safaris too including orcabottlenose dolphins and New Zealand fur seals. As you may have seen, we have had a fantastic year for pygmy blue whale sightings with this subspecies of blue whale also thought to live in New Zealand waters year-round.

In the winter and spring we could also get lucky and see migratory species such as humpback whales as they move between the tropics and the cooler, Antarctic waters.

2) Do you guarantee that we can see whales and dolphins?

Whale and dolphin watching trips are completely dependent on the wildlife and just like all wildlife tourism operators, we cannot guarantee on any trip that it will be possible to locate them (which is a part of the beauty of nature!).

We leave the Viaduct Harbour each day and as we only rely on natural cues in the environment to locate animals – you will literally be on safari with us (it’s in the name!).

However we do actually have a marine mammal sighting guarantee. We see whales and dolphins on more than 95% of our trips. If we are unlucky enough not to be able to locate marine mammals, then we issue complimentary vouchers.

These vouchers are a free ticket allowing the passenger to come back again, for free (that’s right!) until their trip locates marine mammals. The additional bonus is that the complimentary voucher NEVER expires.

3) What time will we get to the animals?

There is no set time! We’re heading out into nature to view wild whales and dolphins in their environment, so there really is no telling when we will find them. Which leads us to the other part of the same question – ‘get to’, there is no set destination where we will find them. The time and place we find them depends on where the animals are. More often than not, they are wherever their food is!

Our knowledge and 20 years of experience means we can pick up on natural cues in the environment which indicate to us where this food might be. And the more people that are helping to look, the higher the chances of finding some wildlife!

4) Will I get seasick?

We aren’t going to lie – if you’re going on a boat, there is a chance you could get seasick. Just like there’s a chance of getting motion sickness in a car. Motion sickness is caused by your brain receiving mixed messages about movement and the effect it is having on your body. Put simply, there is a sensory imbalance, particularly your eyes, inner ear, skin receptors and your muscles and joints. 

Here in Auckland, the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is surrounded on three sides by the mainland and two barrier islands to the north. This means our search area is well protected from the elements (such as swell) and you are less likely to feel the motion of the ocean than if you were out in the open sea.

Our crew are well trained and experienced in handling passengers that are not feeling their best. You can also reduce your chances of feeling seasick by taking medication in advance or trying natural remedies like ginger (we find ginger beer and ginger nut biscuits can really help!). There are other options available too, such as Seabands. Some of these options are available to purchase on board.

5) Will you cancel if it’s raining?

Our trip status depends on various weather conditions, but rain is not the main factor. In fact, it often rains more over land than the sea, so while it may look like a not-so-nice day from your bedroom or hotel window, it may actually be a stunning day out on the water.

Of course, it also works the other way round – what looks like a lovely, sunny day in the city could actually be a grotty day on the water.

The main weather conditions that we look at are the wind speed and direction. A higher wind speed causes bigger waves and therefore bumpier conditions. This is not as enjoyable for our passengers (or crew!) and can reduce the chances of locating animals. We have a limit to which we will safely operate the Dolphin Explorer.

To find out more answers to your questions, head on over to our Frequently Asked Questions page