…aboard Dolphin Explorer, Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari.
Leaving Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour, the sun is shining and the breeze barely ripples the surface of the sea. The awesome crew of skipper Andy, first mate Rob and crew/researcher Sonja have briefed us on our safety and how we can help look out for whales and dolphins.
We turn left past Rangitoto and head out into the 4,000 square kilometres of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. As the boat ventures further out all seems quiet, but Rob and Andy are scanning the horizon for the telltale signs of birds feeding or a whale’s spume, their breath condensing as they exhale.
Cruising at 20 knots the catamaran eats up the miles and as we enter deeper water, beyond the 40 metre depth contour, things start to heat up. Andy spots some whale blowing, and Rob sees the Australasian gannets plunging into the sea at high speed. A good sign, as this probably means dolphins under a school of fish, herding them so they can feed. Bryde’s whales, resident to the Hauraki Gulf, listen out for the activity to join in.
First to show is a Bryde’s whale, working its way through the fish ball, reappearing behind the boat after 3-4 minutes. A pod of common dolphins are busy feeding, but some come over for a quick ride on the pressure wave from the bow. Quite a few babies in the pod!
This scene is repeated throughout our safari, as we continue finding activity and the tally at the end of the day is 5 Bryde’s whales and around 240 dolphins.
An important function of the vessel is also as a research platform. On board we have Krista Rankmore. Krista is from the coastal marine research group at Massey University. Krista is a PhD student who is conducting a four year study on the abundance, social structure and site fidelity of common dolphins (Delphinus sp.) in the Hauraki Gulf.
Krista is accompanied by Tegan Evans, who is studying a Bachelor of Science at Auckland University, majoring in biology and geography. Tegan is one of the valuable Massey University volunteers who is working with Krista on her phd research project.
Krista has been instrumental in setting up the New Zealand Common Dolphin Catalogue, a Facebook page where you can see some images Krista collects to assist her in her research and useful links.
To see a track of the safari, click this link (you must have Google Earth installed!): http://bit.ly/ruwN5u
You will notice from the homebound track we took a short cut across Waiheke. Not true, the software was offline, so it guessed! For information about the trip, click on the track itself.