There are plenty of things I didn’t know about the Hector’s dolphin. In fact, until recently, my only knowledge of them was the most troubling fact of all – that they’re among the rarest dolphins in the world. But seeing as how I’ve always been fascinated by these amazing creatures, I wanted to know more. And more importantly, I wanted to learn something less troubling about them. And what, if anything, we can do to help them.
Found only off the coast of New Zealand, the Hector’s dolphin was named for Sir James Hector (1834-1907), the curator of what is now the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. The most influential local scientist of his time, Hector was the first to examine this particular species of indigenous dolphin. Primarily grey, black and white with a distinctive stripe running across its belly, this cetacean (air breathing, water living mammal) is the smallest dolphin in New Zealand’s waters and is most recognizable by its lack of discernible beak and its round dorsal fin. (The fins of New Zealand’s other dolphin species are pointed and crescent shaped.)
There are only an estimated 7,400 in left in the entire world
Aside from their beauty and playfulness – if you’ve ever watched dolphins, you can sense how much fun they’re having playing in the surf and exploring the shallow water – what has always fascinated me is the built in sonar they use to track down their prey. Using echolocation (seeing with sound), they send out streams of high frequency noises that travel through the water, bounce quickly off moving objects and then back, easily identifying what sort of fish is out there, where it is and how quickly it’s traveling. Incredible.