Adopt a dolphin!

Please support the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust’s long-term scientific research by adopting a Hector’s dolphin. These dolphins are endangered and only found in New Zealand. They don’t live anywhere else in the world!

Your adoption will provide much needed financial support to our research projects with Hector’s and Maui dolphins, and for our public education efforts to help them get better protection.

To adopt one of these dolphins, please:

You can pay by bank transfer to the Trust’s bank account: 02-0912-0229035-00  or by using the donate button. Please mention “Adoption” in the comments regardless of how you pay.

We will email you a certificate with information about your dolphin and the Trust’s work.

These are the dolphins you can adopt:

  • Milka

Milka’s catalogue number is BBW.039. The BBW shows that it has white body markings. She was first spotted in 2002 and was already an adult at that time. Therefore she is at least 18 years old. In Hector’s dolphin years, this is quite old – we have a few individuals over 20 years of age in our Photographic Identification catalogue and only 1-2% of the dolphins make it to age 25. Age 20 for a Hector’s dolphin is similar to reaching 80 years old for a human. Not all of us make it. Age 25-30 for a Hector’s dolphin is like a human reaching 90-100 years old. Milka has been seen with two calves, one in 2006 and a second calf in 2010. Most sightings of Milka have been in Akaroa Harbour, but she has also been seen a few times off the east coast of Banks Peninsula.

The white blotches on her body have spread and changed slightly over Milka’s lifespan. The changes are slow enough that regular updates to the photo-ID catalogue ensure that Milka is not mis-identified as a new dolphin. The cause of these white blotches is currently uncertain. It could be a skin disease, like a viral, bacterial or fungal skin problem. Another possibility, but less likely, is that this is how skin grows back after damage.

  • Zorro

Affectionately known as BBT.010 in the research catalogue, the dolphin watching operators in Akaroa call this dolphin the “Caped Crusader”. He is named for his unique pigmentation pattern that resembles a grey “cape” over his back. Also known as ‘Zorro’ who was a fictional character wearing a cape and defending innocent people in California against villains – way back in the 1800s. Because the Caped Crusader is so unique looking and frequents Akaroa Harbour, he is well known to locals and tour companies. He was first sighted in 1993.

Male Hector’s dolphins have nothing to do with raising calves. Rather than travelling as “families” (e.g. mum, dad, and the kids) small groups of Hector’s dolphins are usually same sex (i.e. all females or all males). Hector’s dolphins have a fission-fusion social structure, meaning group membership changes often and they hang out with lots of different individuals (rather than staying with the same individuals all of the time). When two or more small groups meet, there is usually a major increase in the amount of social activity, which makes sense if these smaller groups are all male or all female. Large gatherings of 20-30 or more dolphins are usually mixed.

  • Thomas

Thomas is a male dolphin with distinctive white blotches, first sighted in 2003. His catalogue number is BBW.0100 so we can find him easily among the other dolphins with white body blotches. Thomas is unusual in that he has been seen all the way from Island Bay (on the south of Banks Peninsula) to Raupo Bay (on the north side), a large home range compared to other dolphins in the catalogue. Most dolphins around Banks Peninsula have an alongshore home range of about 50 km. So far, no dolphin has been sighted over the whole of Banks Peninsula and most are either ‘north side’ or ‘south side’ dolphins. It’s relatively unusual for the north and south side ‘tribes’ to mix.

Thomas has also been spotted following trawlers. Hector’s dolphins are commonly sighted following trawlers’ nets, feeding on prey that has been stirred up by the net. However, this behavior also likely comes at a price – it puts them at a greater risk of getting entangled in the trawl net themselves.

  • Snow White

Snow White is female dolphin first sighted in 2000. She is another dolphin in our catalogue with white patches – possibly a dolphin-version of vitiligo sometimes seen in humans. Her catalogue number is BBW.0280. Snow white has been sighted in Akaroa Harbour, but seems to spend most of her time in the southern bays of Banks Peninsula, as far as Birdlings Flat. Snow White was seen with her first known calf in 2008.

Female Hector’s dolphins reach maturity at 7 – 9 years, and have a calf every 2 – 4 years after that. If Snow white is lucky enough to live to 25 years old, she would only have a maximum of 5 – 6 calves over her life time. This slow breeding rate is one of the reasons why Hector’s dolphins are especially vulnerable to human impacts. The maximum rate at which the population can grow is 2%. In other words, a population of 1,000 individuals (similar to Banks Peninsula) can only grow by a maximum of 20 individuals per year.

  • William

This is one of the few dolphins in the catalogue whose mark isn’t quite on the dorsal fin! His catalogue number BS5.040 shows that he has a body scar on part 5 of his body, the tailstock, just behind the dorsal fin. The even spacing between the dents suggests an encounter with a predator, or possibly a boat strike. William was first spotted in 2003, and is sighted most often in Akaroa Harbour and the bays just west of the harbour.

When looking at Hector’s dolphins’ dorsal fins, many of them have superficial “tooth rake” marks. These markings occur when another dolphin rakes his/her teeth against another dolphins’ body, which is common during social interactions. These markings heal completely within a few months, making them unsuitable for ID. Therefore, only deep scars like William’s are counted as a “permanent” mark.

William is named after William Trubridge, the New Zealand freediving champion, who holds the world freediving record. He is also an advocate for the conservation of Hector’s dolphins. In 2010, William dove to 100 m without fins or assistance, the same maximum depth of water that Hector’s dolphins are found in. Most recently, William Trubridge swam the entire length of Cook Strait (22 km) to further raise awareness of Māui and Hector’s dolphins current plight. His Cook Strait swim was done ‘like a dolphin’ in 20-30 metre underwater stretches, followed by a quick breath at the surface and then another underwater swim.

  • Puzzle

Puzzle is a female dolphin, most commonly seen in the Harbour/southern bays of Banks Peninsula. Puzzle has successfully had at least 2 calves. We can almost always recognize Puzzle quickly in the field due to her distinct fin shape resembling a puzzle piece. Her catalogue number FSV.0320 puts her in the catalogue with other individuals with several fin nicks, to make it easier for us to find matches.

We are unsure how she got this mark, but one possibility is a non-fatal encounter with fishing gear. Getting entangled in nets or fishing line can create “cuts” or “slices” in the fin. Research by our team has indicated that the overall number of dolphins with identifying marks at Banks Peninsula may be declining since the establishment of the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary. This is most likely due to less encounters with fishing gear – obviously a good thing for the dolphins! The unfortunate side of this is there are fewer dolphins for our researchers to track.

  • Tortoise

Tortoise is named after the very unusual shape of his/her fin, which resembles a Tortoise (the cause of this mark is unknown – any ideas?). Tortoise was first seen in 2014, making his/her one of the “newer” additions to the catalogue. Her catalogue number is FSV.2650.

Unfortunately, we are still unsure if Tortoise is male or female. The only way to be sure of this is to see its belly. Males have a dark oval shape around their genital slit, below the navel. Some females have a few small grey markings near the genital slit, but never a large grey oval like the males. Many females just have a plain white belly. The dolphins of Banks Peninsula are sexed either with luck (when an individual swims by the boat belly up) or with a video camera on a window washing pole placed into the water, so we can see their belly underwater.

  • Fingers

Fingers is one of the most highly distinctive dolphins in the ID catalogue and possibly the most popular dolphin among the tour operators that work in Akaroa Harbour. His unique marks likely come from a shark attack. Bite marks on dorsal fins are relatively common, as dolphins likely turn their back towards sharks when escaping to protect their more vulnerable belly. Fingers is also well known by Akaroa dolphin watchers, and is most commonly sighted in Akaroa Harbour.

Dolphins in our photo-ID catalogue are sorted by how distinctive their marks are, with category 1 most distinctive (like Fingers!) and category 3 least distinctive. Only category 1 and 2 dolphins are used in population analysis (e.g. to estimate abundance), as this reduces the chance of misidentifying individuals. His catalogue number FSV.3055 puts him in the catalogue with other individuals with several fin nicks, to make it easier for us to identify matches between new photographs and individuals already in the catalogue. For well known individuals like Fingers, we can tell at first glance who it is. But we still carefully check every new photo taken of Fingers with the photos in the catalogue, to double check and to look for any changes in the dolphin’s markings.

  • Tama Iti

“Iti” in Te reo Maori means “small” and “Tama” means Tom. This dolphin got his name because it was still with his mother when first sighted, making him no more than just 2 years old when first seen. We know Iti is a male. He was first seen in 1991, and has been exclusively sighted in Akaroa Harbour so it is fair to say that it is his preferred spot!

It is unusual to see well marked dolphins so young. Since dolphins gain marks throughout their lifetime, from social interactions, shark attacks, and human interactions (e.g. boat strike) most dolphins seen for the first time with a mark are older. This dolphin is especially valuable to our research programme, as we have been able to track Tame Iti for most of his life!

  • Punk

Punk (FSV.3520) is a female first seen in 2000, who is most commonly seen in the southern bays of Banks Peninsula. Punk might have received her unique marks while socializing with other dolphins. Her name comes from her “spikey” looking dorsal fin mark, resembling a Mohawk hair style! Hector’s dolphins are usually found in groups of 2 – 8 individuals, but sometimes form large groups of up to 100 dolphins. In these larger groups it is common to see lots of boisterous social behavior (including tail slaps and chasing), mating, and impressive jumps.

Punk has successfully had at least 3 calves, making her one of the best mothers at Banks Peninsula!

  • Sharkbait

Sharkbait’s name, and his/her mark, obviously come from a shark attack he/she suffered in 2003. Sharkbait was first spotted shortly after the attack, with widespread, fresh wounds, moving slowly. The New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust team were unsure if he/she would survive. Thankfully, Sharkbait’s wounds healed by themselves over the next months, and were fully healed when he/she was seen a year later. It was a very impressive recovery! Since then, Sharkbait has seemed healthy. S/he was last spotted in 2016 in Akaroa Harbour, but has not only stayed in that area as it is also commonly seen in the southern bays of Banks Peninsula.

Sharks may be the dolphins’ greatest natural predator. Hector’s dolphin remains have been found in the stomachs of sevengills and blue sharks. But humans (through using fishing nets) are without doubt the cause of the decline of Hector’s dolphins since the 1970s.

  • Sylvia

Sylvia has been sighted since 1993, and was sighted with her first known calf in 2006. Sylvia has been sighted most often in Akaroa Harbour and the southern bays. Her catalogue number is FSVW.333 which shows that she has several nicks (FSV) and one of them is shaped like a W.

Sylvia’s dorsal fin is a good example of a “mark change.” Since dolphins gain marks through social interactions and predators throughout their life, they can gain marks which can “cover up” older marks or make them harder to recognize. In 2014 Sylvia acquired a new mark, possibly from social interactions (e.g. biting) with another dolphin. It is important photo-ID surveys are completed often enough so that mark changes can be tracked – otherwise dolphins like Sylvia will be mis-classified as a new individual!

This dolphin got her name to honour Dr. Sylvia Earle, marine biologist, explorer, diver, lecturer, author and founder of Mission Blue. This international non-profit organization was created to inspire action to protect the oceans and has been designating “hope spots” around the globe. Hope Spots are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean. In November 2018, Mission Blue declared the coastal waters of New Zealand a hope spot. We wanted to thank Mission Blue for supporting protection for Hector’s and Maui dolphins by banning the use of gillnets and trawling in these dolphins’ habitats.

  • Korokoro

Korokoro (also known as “Mouthy”) achieved celebrity status in 2016, when news of her mouth-breathing abilities took the entire world by surprise! Korokoro means mouth in Maori and this is the only known dolphin to breathe through her mouth. Dolphins breathe through the nasal passages on the top of the head (called the blowhole). It is unknown why exactly Korokoro can’t use her blowhole (perhaps a blockage or injury keeps her from doing so). We have successfully assessed her sex so we know she is a female.

Korokoro must bring her entire head out of the water to take a breath, causing her to surface at a steep angle, we can also hear her take a loud breath. Luckily for us, this makes her very easy to identify (we can also use her tattoo lesion near the blowhole, a small mark on her dorsal fin, and unique tongue black freckle to tell it’s her).

Even though some people were concerned about her wellbeing when we first found out about her, Korokoro seems to have adapted well to her “disability.” She has been regularly seen since 2014, swimming well and in good body condition I company of multiple dolphins. Korokoro is primarily seen on the North side of Banks Peninsula, but has been spotted as far south as Akaroa Harbour! This is a considerable distance for her to travel as NZ dolphins normally have small home ranges. Korokoro is another individual that is regularly seen following trawl boats.