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Kidadl Team

AUGUST 06, 2021

Hector's Dolphin: 21 Facts You Won’t Believe!

Hector's dolphin facts like it is the smallest dolphin are interesting.

Dolphins are fascinating creatures, they are popular for being incredibly friendly and smart. Hector's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) is the smallest marine dolphin in the world. Hector's dolphins are endemic to New Zealand, and they have become extremely rare to spot due to the decrease in population.

The North Island Hector's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) is often confused with Maui's dolphin that is found exclusively on the west coast of the North Island, New Zealand. Maui dolphins were initially considered as a subspecies of Hector's dolphin but it was later moved to a different species list based on genetic tests.

Read on to find out more. You may also check out our fact files on Commerson's dolphin and the minke whale from Kidadl.

Hector's Dolphin Interesting Facts

What type of animal is Hector's dolphin?

Hector's dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori) are one species of dolphins out of four that belong to the genus Cephalorhynchus. The other three species in this genus are Commerson's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii), Chilean dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia), and Heaviside's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus heavisidii). They are playful blunt-nosed dolphins.

What class of animal does a Hector's dolphin belong to?

Hector's dolphins are aquatic mammals (cetaceans) belonging to the family Delphinidae, found exclusively in New Zealand. Other cetaceans are whales, dolphins, and porpoises. They live in waters, breathe air, and give birth to young ones. There are many subspecies of these marine mammals.

How many Hector's dolphins are there in the world?

The Hector's dolphin population is rapidly decreasing. According to the estimates of IUCN, the current number of adult individuals is 7,381. Diseases, fishing nets, and humans are the biggest threats to this endangered individuals species.  

Where does Hector's dolphin live?

The Hector's dolphin is found in the New Zealand inshore and coastal waters. The only cetaceans endemic to New Zealand are Hector's dolphin (New Zealand). Dolphin (Hector's in particular) populations are heavily fragmented. The largest population is found in Akaroa Harbour. Haast and Farewell Spit in the west, the Banks Peninsula marine mammal sanctuary in the east, Te Waewae Bay, and Porpoise Bay in the south are some regions where populations are concentrated. There is the North Island Hector's dolphin, South Island Hector's dolphin, and those on the west coast.

What is a Hector's dolphin's habitat?

New Zealand's Hector's dolphins subspecies are mainly found to inhabit shallow inshore waters range. The maximum range of depth a Hector's dolphin is found at is 330 ft (100 m). They seasonally migrate from inshore (spring and summer) to offshore (autumn and winter). They are very consistent with their feeding sites. The Hector's dolphin habitat is preferably murky, turbid water.

Who do Hector's dolphins live with?

South Island Hector's dolphins are very social animals and travel in groups of up to five dolphins. They tend to form groups based on age and sex. Though they forage and travel in groups, they do not get attached to each other. Three types of groups formed by Hector's dolphins are nursery groups, subadult groups, and mature male or female groups. Nursery groups of these marine mammals consist of up to seven mothers and their offspring.

How long does Hector's dolphin live?

The average Hector's dolphin lifespan in the wild is 20 years old. There are accounts of them living up to 25 years old. The Hector's dolphin life history shows that they have slow population growth.

How do they reproduce?

Hector's dolphins' subspecies segregate in groups based on age and sex. They exhibit non-aggressive sexual behavior. There is also no male to male aggression. Hector's dolphins reach sexual maturity at an average of eight years of age. Hector's dolphins are polygynandrous. They follow a promiscuous mating pattern (more than one male mate with more than one female).

Sexual behavior in this subspecies is observed in larger mixed groups than in small single-sex groups. Their sexual behavior involves gestures like presenting their abdomen or gonad and physical contact which leads to mating. Adult Hector's dolphin males have large testes which make up 2.9% of their total weight. The mating occurs in late spring. Their gestation period is 11 months. The female Hector's dolphin gives birth to one calf every one to three years. Throughout their lifespan, they give birth to up to seven calves.

What is their conservation status?

According to the IUCN red list of threatened species, the conservation status of Hector's dolphins falls under the category of Endangered. The major threats faced by Hector's dolphins are the New Zealand fishing industry, seabed mining, pollution, and human impact. Diseases, fishing nets, and humans are the biggest threats to this Endangered sub-species' population. Hector's dolphins are endangered and highly protected. The Ministry of Fisheries, New Zealand, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) are responsible for a threat management plan for Hector's and Maui dolphins.

Hector's Dolphin Fun Facts

What do Hector's dolphins look like?

The Hector's dolphin is the smallest marine dolphin found in New Zealand. It has a blunt snout and a round black dorsal fin. It does not have a beak, like other dolphins. Hector's dolphins have a stocky streamlined body. They have a pale gray body with a black dorsal fin, flippers, and flukes. The throat and belly are off-white. A unique white stripe stretches from their belly onto each side below the dorsal fin. A black mark surrounds their eye and extends to the base of their flippers.

Hector's dolphins are different from Maui dolphins.

How cute are they?

Dolphins are very adorable and playful species. Their round black dorsal fin is often compared to Mickey Mouse's ears. They are very intelligent and curious creatures.

How do they communicate?

Hector's dolphins communicate by echolocation. They produce high-frequency clicks but at a lower level than other dolphins. This is mainly due to their crowded habitat. The disadvantage is that they can spot their prey only as they get closer. This species, Hector's dolphin, has only a few types of clicks and audible sounds.

How big is Hector's dolphin?

The Hector's dolphin is very small in size compared to other dolphins. The adult dolphin grows up to a length of 3 ft 11 in–5 ft 3 in (1.2–1.6 m). The male dolphins are smaller than the female dolphins. Baby Hector's dolphins or calves are an average of 22 in (55 cm) at the time of birth.

How fast can Hector's dolphin swim?

The Hector's dolphin's fastest speed that it can maintain for a while is about 6.8-7.8 mph (11-12.5 kph). Its maximum speed is up to 10.2 mph (16.5 kph). Newborn Hector's dolphins swim very slowly, reducing the average speed of the nursery group.

How much does Hector's dolphin weigh?

An adult Hector's dolphin weighs around 88–132 lb (40–60 kg). The male weighs lighter than the female dolphins. A newborn calf weighs 17-22 lb (8-10 kg).

What are the male and female names of the species?

A male and female dolphin is called a bull and a cow respectively. This name is not species-specific.

What would you call a baby Hector's dolphin?

A Hector's dolphin baby can be called a calf or an offspring.

What do they eat?

Hector's dolphins live in inshore waters and feed on the prey available in the neritic zone. They feed on small-sized prey and avoids spiny ones. The common prey in the diet Hector's dolphins is red cod, squid, sardines, anchovy, and other schooling fish, flatfish, New Zealand sprat, arrow squid, and stargazer juveniles. Their inshore offshore movements are based on the movement of prey species. They play an important role in controlling the local fish population.

The main predators of Hector's dolphins are the seven gill shark, great white shark, blue shark, killer whales or orcas, mako sharks, and bronze whaler sharks.

Are they friendly?

Dolphins are very friendly aquatic mammals and are harmless to humans. They are highly intelligent animals and often compared to dogs for their behavior towards humans. Hector's dolphins are very curious and are often found swimming very close to boats. They spend the majority of their tie feeding and playing. They are found very close to the shores.

Would they make a good pet?

Wild animals should not be kept as pets. Aquatic mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is illegal to keep any dolphins as pets, especially Critically Endangered ones like Hector's dolphins.

Did you know...

Hector's dolphins were named after Sir James Hector, former curator of the Colonial Museum, Wellington. The first species was examined by him.

Though they use echolocation for finding prey, they do not often use it for traveling, this leads to them getting stuck on gill nets and becoming bycatch. The Banks Peninsula marine mammal sanctuary in Canterbury, New Zealand was established in 1988 to reduce bycatch deaths of Hector’s dolphins in the region.

Maori tribes predict the weather by watching dolphins. Māori names for the Hector's dolphin are tutumairekurai and tupoupou.

Hector's dolphins are conscious sleepers. They never fall completely asleep and this helps control the required amount of oxygen intake. Otherwise, they could drown.

Brucellosis is an infectious bacterial disease that affects Hector's and Māui dolphins. It causes late pregnancy abortion in these aquatic mammals. Brucellosis causes reproductive disease and affects the reproductive success of Hector's and Maui dolphins.

How do male and female Hector's dolphins differ in size?

Hector's dolphins exhibit sexual dimorphism. The female Hector's dolphins are slightly bigger and heavier than the male dolphins.

What sounds do Hector's dolphins make?

Hector's dolphins make high-frequency clicks. Their mode of communication is by echolocation. They also use echolocation to search for food, terrain, and mates. The clicks hit the body or object and reflect, enabling the dolphin to identify the prey's location and surroundings. These clicks are also at times the Hector's dolphin expressing emotions.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals from our false killer whale facts and grey seal facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable hector's dolphin coloring pages.

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