A skipper cruising the waters near Akaroa has been treated to a rare sight.
"The lone common dolphin was cruising along with a pod of around 20 Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa Harbour," says Black Cat Cruises Skipper Hamish Crosbie.
"We are used to seeing endangered Hector’s dolphins but it is very uncommon for us to see a short-beaked common dolphin."
Short-beaked common dolphins are not normally sighted in Akaroa. In New Zealand, this species tends to remain a few kilometres from the coast and is particularly common in the Hauraki Gulf and off Northland.
"We see short-beaked common dolphins in Akaroa Harbour once a year at most," says Crosbie.
"The last time we sighted a short-beaked common dolphin there was a large pod of about 200 cruising up the harbour, so it is very unusual to see just one. Sightings in the South Island are more likely to occur in Kaikoura and Milford Sound."
To ensure the viewing was safe and unobtrusive, Mr Crosbie slowed down the cruise vessel and kept a safe distance from the pod.
The colour of the short-beaked common dolphin is very distinctive with a criss-cross or hourglass type pattern centred on the flank, according to the Department of Conservation.
Colours include purplish-black, grey, white and yellowish-tan. The dorsal fin is high with a concave hind edge.
Short-beaked common dolphins feed on a variety of prey, including surface schooling fish species and small mid-water fish and squids.
"Dolphins have complex relationships, and most of the time they will cooperate by socialising and playing. We assume this short-beaked common dolphin has joined this pod for protection or to find food."
Black Cat Cruises was the first eco-tourism operator in Canterbury to receive Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism (SMART) certification from the Department of Conservation (DOC) in 2015.
SMART is a voluntary collaboration between commercial boat operators and the DOC for the protection of marine mammals in New Zealand. It aims to promote responsible behaviour around dolphins, whales and seals by boat operators.