During our most recent trip to New Zealand my wife and I spent a couple of days in Greymouth and we were thrilled to be able to capture a few images of Hector’s dolphins. These marine mammals are named after Sir James Hector, who was the curator of the Colonial Museum in Wellington (now Te Papa), and examined the first specimen found of the dolphin.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Hector’s dolphins are endemic to New Zealand and are one of the smallest and rarest dolphin species in the world. They are listed internationally under Species Threatened with Extinction. The population is estimated to be about 7,000 individuals. A sub-species, the North Island’s Maui’s dolphin, has an estimated population of only 55 individuals.
Hector’s dolphins have distinctive rounded dorsal fins and are the only species in New Zealand waters to have this physical feature. These dolphins have an estimated life span of about 20 years. Like many other endangered species they reproduce infrequently, only calving about every 4 years
The dolphins often swim in pairs and live in small, isolated pods of approximately 8-12 individuals. They frequent shallow coastal areas and typically have a home range of about 30 kilometres. The owner of the motel in Greymouth told us about this local pod which often frequents the harbour area.
During our two days in Greymouth we visited the Southern Breakwater Viewing Platform area five times, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dolphins. We had no success during our first four visits. Lady Luck finally looked down on us during our fifth visit which was on the morning that we were leaving Greymouth on our way to Westport. Being able to capture these images while standing on dry land was a special treat.
Photographing these wonderful dolphins can be a challenge since they are quite small measuring only 1.2-1.6 metres (~4-5 feet) and weighing in at about 35 to 50 kilograms (~75 to 110 lbs.)
The dolphins appeared to be hunting as they were doing frequent shallow dives and not spending too much time at the surface. To capture these images I had to concentrate on their movements, trying to anticipate where they may next surface.
My Nikon 1 V3 and 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens performed very well, acquiring focus quickly. This allowed me to take advantage of the very limited number of opportunities I had for photographs. The Hector’s dolphins only made a few passes that were close enough to my vantage point to allow for any attempts at images. The reach of the V3/CX 70-300mm zoom lens combo (efov 189-810mm) was instrumental in capturing these photographs.
To capture the images in this article I shot handheld in Manual mode, using continuous auto-focus (AF-C) with subject tracking at 10 frames per second. I used an auto-ISO setting of 160-3200.
All photographs were captured hand-held using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
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