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Clutha is home to the world’s rarest penguins the “yellow eyed” and also another species which are the world’s smallest “the blue”, the planet’s most endangered sea lions and the smallest dolphins!

Yellow Eyed Penguins (Hoiho)

Perhaps the world’s rarest penguins and the world’s most ancient with just a few thousand in total, so to spot these endangered penguins is a real treat!

A reserve to protect 10% of mainland population was set up in 2007 at Long Point near Owaka in the Catlins, while Roaring Bay Hide next to Nugget Point is the other place to see them.

The Yellow Eyed Penguin known as a Hoiho in Maori is so iconic it features on the Kiwi $5 dollar note. 

  • Upto 80cm’s tall and weighing upto 8kg the males are bigger and live longer upto 20 years.
  • They don’t nest in visual sight of each other and normally on a slope in forest, scrub, or on beaches facing the sea.
  • Nest sites are picked in August and normally 2 eggs laid in September with incubation lasting upto 50 days.
  • For first 6 weeks one parent guards the chicks while the other hunts for food. When chicks are 4 months old they become totally independent.
  • First breeding occurs at 3-4 years old and long term partnerships are formed – penguins are famously monogamous with one partner for life!
  • They eat fish like blue cod and also jellyfish

Little Blue Penguin

The world’s smallest penguins are found all along the Catlins coast nesting in caves and burrows. They fish close to shore and come in after dark and go out before dawn so can be tricky to see.

Sea Lions (Hooker’s Sea Lion or Whakahao)

New Zealand sea lions are most endangered and threatened in the world.

  • They are one of the largest of New Zealand animals with the males upto 3 and half metre’s long and upto 450kg in weight – females are almost half the size and weight.
  • Males have darker with longer hair down to their shoulders.
  • They tend to return to the same sites.
  • They have started breeding again in the Catlins after 150 years of breeding exclusively on remote islands.
  • They eat squid, octopus, fish, shellfish, seabirds and other marine mammals.
  • Sea lions are hunted and preyed on by Great White Sharks.
  • Sealing was made illegal in New Zealand in 1893!
  • Sea lions can get caught in squid nets which has led to new technology to prevent this happening.
  • The mainland population is estimated to reach 1000 by 2044.
  • Best places to see them in the Catlins: Nugget Point, Surat and Cannibal bays, Jack's Bay, Purakaunui Bay. These are also the top spots to see fur seals. While you might see elephant seals at Nugget Point

Fur Seals (Kekeno)

  • Males are upto 160kg and can reach 2 metres long - females are a lot smaller weighing around 50kg and only 1.5 metres long. Pups are around 4kg and 50 cm’s long.
  • Famous for their whiskers, hind flippers and external ears
  • They can dive deeper than any other fur seal – males can reach depths of 380 metres , spending 15 minutes underwater.
  • They use a bark or whimper to communicate.
  • Females only mate once a year and continue to reproduce till they die at normally 14-17 years old.
  • Pups born in the summer and leave their parents at 9 months old.

Elephant Seal

These large earless seals take their name from the male or bull’s nose which looks like an elephant’s trunk and is used to make load roaring noises especially during the mating season and is handy for saving water.

Exceptional males can be up to 6 metres long and 4,000 kilos…wow…even the pups can be 80 pounds and 4 foot long when they are born. Our Southern species are bigger than those up North.

Hector's Dolphins

  • The world’s smallest dolphins around 1.5 metres in length and upto 60kg with interestingly females being both slightly longer and heavier.
  • Famous for its rounded dorsal fin.
  • Look grey from a distance but are actually far more colourful with light grey and dark grey, black, and creamy white.
  • Hector calves are upto 80cm long and 10kg with vertical pale strips until 6 months old.
  • Stay in shallow water down to 100metres.
  • Biggest threat is fishing and getting trapped in nets leading to marine protection areas being set up.
  • The best places to see these lovely creatures is at Nugget Point or Curio Bay.

There are also deer in the Catlins….you may even see one or at least their tracks on the beaches.

Bird Life

Trees in the Temperate Rainforest

Ancient Podocarps rule the Catlins Conservation Area with Rimu, Matai, Totara and Kahikatea with other species like Kamahi and Rata.

Silver Beech are found further inland.

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