Rare blue whale spotted feeding in the Hauraki Gulf
One of the largest animals to ever grace the planet has been spotted lolling around in Auckland waters.
Passengers aboard the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari catamaran on Tuesday afternoon were "absolutely buzzing" to encounter a rare blue whale.
Skipper Andy Light said it was only his fourth time seeing one - after 25 years in the business.
"The passengers were well excited... they really wanted to see a whale but to see a blue whale as opposed to anything else was like winning the whale-watching lottery."
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The safari left as normal just after midday from Auckland's Viaduct, with the plan of sailing through the Waitemata Harbour and wider Hauraki Gulf in search of whales and dolphins.
The catamaran had been hanging around with a pod of dolphins late in the day when Light spotted the tell-tale signs of a whale nearby.
"Scanning through the binoculars we saw the blow, it was a particularly large blow so we knew it was going to be something a little different from what we usually see," said Light.
"I had an inkling as to what it was going to be.
"As it came up beside us it rolled and arched its back I could see the tiny little stubby dorsel fin and knew instantly it was a blue whale."
Up close, the awestruck passengers and crew could get an appreciation of the size of the gentle giant.
"[it was] probably about 20-25 metres or so, and the boat is about 20m long.
"It was feeding, coming up every five minutes or so, then taking about three breaths, then circling back around.
"There was a lot of food in the water like krill, shrimp and plankton, so it was probably stopping by for a bit of a feed while passing through from Antarctica in its migration to go and breed."
The company's general manager, Brad Kirner, said the crew was "absolutely buzzing" from the encounter.
"In about 17 years of operations, that's only the third time that we've seen one in the Hauraki Gulf."
He said the team usually tended to spot whales, such as Auckland's resident Bryde's whales, fin whales, humpback and pilot whales, in about 55-60 per cent of all cruises.
The viewing rate for dolphins, such as the common dolphin, orcas and the bottle nose dolphin, sits around 95 per cent.
"But at this time of the year, because the water's colder, it's actually a perfect time to see lots of action - so we'll see whales on most trips at the moment," Kirner said.
FUN FACTS ABOUT BLUE WHALES
Average lifespan of a blue whale is about 80 to 90 years, and they can reach up to 30 metres in length - more than two buses long.
The are the largest animal to have ever existed on earth and also the loudest - their cries can be louder than jet engine, according to National Geographic.
They can weigh up to 173 tonnes, but average about 100 tonnes.
Light said it's difficult to estimate how many there are in the wild due to their transient nature and because whale population studies are relatively new, but he understood there were about 10,000-25,000 individuals worldwide.
"It certainly is extremely rare to see them on New Zealand's east coast."