Rare dolphin pays first visit to Wellington

One of the world's most rare dolphins delighted onlookers this week with a surprise visit to Wellington Harbour.

One, possibly two, Hector's dolphins were spotted frolicking in the harbour by members of the public.

The endangered dolphins are usually seen around the South Island but are not common.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Poneke biodiversity programme manager Peter Simpson said he did not know why the dolphins had come or where they were from.

"It's almost like having a kakapo turning up in your backyard," he said.

Mr Simpson said live Hector's dolphins had never before been seen in Wellington waters, but a dead one had washed up on Petone beach in 1978.

DOC researchers hoped to determine if the dolphins were members of the even rarer sub-species of Maui dolphin.

The Maui dolphin is the rarest of the species with a estimated population of 110.

DOC marine mammal expert Nadine Bott said dolphins had distinctive markings on their bodies and fins.

Photos taken by onlookers this week could be used to identify individuals with the help of a national database.

Hector's dolphins have distinctive grey, white and black markings and a short snout.

They are the only New Zealand dolphins with a rounded black dorsal fin.


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