Dolphins & Whales

French Pass is the perfect location for dolphin and whale spotting.

Below is a handy dolphin & whale identification key. 


hectordolphinHector's Dolphin - (Cephalorhynchus hectori )

  • Dorsal fin shape: ”Mickey mouse” shaped, rounded
  • smallest dolphin (1.2-1.6 meters)
  • Black shading around dorsal fin, pectoral fin, cheeks and eyes, and lower part of tail
  • 3-pronged or “trident” shape white patch on belly
  • No pronounced beak
  • Usually coastal in small groups (5-8)

dusky dolphinDusky DolpinDusky Dolphin - (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)

  • Dorsal fin shape: Triangular, hooked with point
  • Beak length: Blunt and rounded
  • Body colors: Black, Grey, and white. Not Tan or Brown
  • 1.6-1.8 meters long
  • Can occur in large groups >100
  • Acrobatic
  • Rarely seen around North Island

commondolphinCommon Dolphin - (Delphinus delphis)
Other characteristics:

  • 1.6-1.8 meters long
  • Can occur in large groups >100
  • Commonly seen around North Island

bottlenoseBottlenose Dolphin - (Tursiops truncatus)
Other characteristics:

  • large dolphin (up to 4 m)
  • Group size up to about 100
  • Dorsal fins often well-marked (many nicks, notches and scrapes)

Larger members of the Dolphin family (6-9 m)

longfinnedpilotwhaleLong Finned Pilot Whales - (Globicephala melas)

  • Up to 6.5 meters
  • All black except for “anchor-shaped” white pattern on stomach
  • Round, high forhead (melon)
  • Hooked dorsal fin, wide at base in males
  • Long tail (2/3 of body length) with grey saddle patch
  • Long boomerang-shaped pectoral fins
  • Sometimes seen mixed with bottlenose dolphins
  • Commonly strands on beaches in New Zealand

killerwhaleKiller Whale - (Orcinus orca)

  • Distinct black and white pattern, white patch around eye
  • Adult males have 2m tall, triangular dorsal fins
  • Grey saddle patch behind dorsal fin

Whales (12-18 m)

southernrightwhaleSouthern Right Whale - (Eubalaena australis)

  • No dorsal fin or ridge
  • Whitish callouses (callosities) on snout, chin, blowhole
  • Callosities infested with parasites and barnacles
  • Slow swimmer
  • Arched jaw, teeth absent, baleen

humpbackwhaleHumpback Whale - (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Small dorsal fin far on back with hump in front
  • Knobs or bumps on head, jaws, flippers
  • Pectoral fins long and white
  • Folds or pleats under chin
  • Underside of tail has white pattern
  • No teeth, baleen plates

spermwhaleSperm Whale - (Physeter macrocephalus)

  • Blowhole on left side of head
  • Large, squarish head, 1/3 of body
  • Skin “wrinkled”
  • Black, may have white lips
  • Narrow underslung lower jaw
  • Teeth only in lower jaw
  • Usually seen resting at surface