“Thar she blows!” Iconic words used by the lookout on whaling ships when they finally spotted a whale, and made famous by the book about the epic battle between man and a sperm whale called Moby Dick. We’re still spotting whales by their blow, but luckily these days its only photographs being taken as whaling was banned in New Zealand since the 1960’s.
All marine mammals are protected in New Zealand waters, with many MPA’s, or Marine Protected Areas, all throughout the country. Kaikoura sits right in the middle of a number of protected areas, and the underwater topography of the ocean just off-shore makes it one of the best places in the world for whale watching.
Now since these whales are living freely, it can be difficult finding them in a huge stretch of open ocean! However there is one sure thing we look for when out spotting for whales in our planes and helicopters- the whale blow!
Since whales and dolphins are mammals, they breathe air just like humans do, and they breathe through their nostrils called a blowhole. The animals come up to the surface and forcefully exhale the old air, creating a huge puff of mist in the air which is called their blow. Each whale species has a unique blow, and we use this to spot the animals from miles off, as well as to help us identify them.
Here are a few common species we see off of Kaikoura, and how to spot them based on their blows:
Because it is a toothed whale, sperm whales only have one nostril! This nostril is located on the left side of the head meaning the blow is always angled slightly. When spotting for sperm whales look for a blow that is at a 45 degree angle to the water, and is low and squat
Southern Right Whale
All baleen whales have 2 nostrils, and most of the time they merge into one at the top of the whales head. Not in the southern right whale! The two holes of its nostrils are very distinct, which then causes a distinctive “V” shaped blow when the whale comes up for a breath.
Being the biggest animal in the world, its not surprising that a blue whale’s blow is the largest. It can be spotted from miles away, and reach up to 10 meters high! Kaikoura gets migratory blue whales passing by often in the summertime, so look out for a huge plume of mist from the blue whales' blow.
Our pilots get really good at looking out for these different blows when they are out flying, but anyone on the tour can help them out! It’s pretty tough to beat a keen-eyed pilot at the whale-spotting game, but we encourage everyone to try. Who knows- you might be a natural! Come out and fly with us and try your hand at spotting the whales and identifying them from their breathing!