Connect with marine animals | Sustainable Coastlines

Our marine animals

While Aotearoa’s land is relatively small, we make up for it with the size of our waters. At around 430 million hectares, our ocean territory is 15 times the size of our land mass! That being the case, we’re lucky to have a diversity of marine animals enter our waters. 

We’re constantly inspired by these beautiful animals, and endeavour to protect them through tackling the plastic pollution problem here in Aotearoa. 

Here are just some of the amazing creatures we hope to protect.

Honu / sea turtle

Despite the fact they do not breed in Aotearoa, we encounter five species of honu, or sea turtle, in our waters. The green and leatherback turtles are the species most commonly found in Aotearoa.

What makes honu special?

  • Honu are reptiles, so are cold-blooded. Our waters are usually too cold for them, but in recent years we have had more sightings due to warming temperatures.
  • Honu can maintain body temperatures 5˚C above the sea, which may be why they are more likely to be found in Aotearoa’s cool waters.
  • Leatherback turtles have been clocked as swimming up to 40 kilometres per hour when travelling long distance.
  • Adult green turtles are the only herbivorous sea turtle in the world. However, before they grow up, one of their favourite things to eat is the jellyfish! This can make them particularly vulnerable to ingesting plastics, especially plastic bags.

Māui dolphin / popoto

Image: Department of Conservation and Auckland University.

Māui dolphins, or popoto, are endemic to Aotearoa and are the rarest dolphins in the world, with only around 63 individuals remaining. All of them can be found on the west coast of Te Ika-a-Māui / the North Island, most commonly between Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato.

What makes Māui dolphins special?

  • Out of all dolphin species in the world, Māui dolphins are the smallest. They grow up to 1.7 metres long and weigh 50kg at most! 
  • They are the only dolphins to have a black, rounded dorsal fin. Most other dolphin dorsal fins are sickle-shaped.
  •  Māui dolphins communicate with clicks at a frequency too high for human ears. We have to slow these sounds down 20 times to hear them! Listen below.


  • They also use sound to find their food. Known as ‘echolocation’, and used by other dolphins, they produce high-frequency clicks that bounce off fish and surrounding objects so they can ‘see’ in murky water.
  • Hector’s dolphins look almost identical to Māui dolphins, but are actually genetically and physically distinct.

Toroa / royal albatross

Toroa, or royal albatross, are the largest seabirds in the world, and endemic to Aotearoa. There are two subspecies: Northern and Southern toroa. Of Northern toroa, 99 percent breed on the predator-free Chatham Islands, while the other 1 percent (around 30 pairs) breed at Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head. Meanwhile, Southern toroa only breed on the Subantarctic Campbell and Auckland Islands, with the former hosting 99 percent of breeding pairs!

What makes toroa special?

  • Toroa are Southern Ocean wanderers, spending approximately 85 percent of their lives at sea and only returning to land to breed! Young toroa may spend up to five years at sea before breeding for the first time.
  • Toroa can circumnavigate the globe in just 46 days using a gliding technique called ‘dynamic soaring’. This technique means they don’t have to beat their wings, so they can save their energy.
  • The widest recorded wingspan of the toroa is 3.7 metres.
  • When left undisturbed, toroa can live to be more than 60 years old.

Rako / Buller's shearwater

Rako, or Buller’s shearwater, can be seen across Aotearoa, especially in the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty. However, due to their vulnerability to humans and other predators they now only breed at Tawhitirahi and Aorangi (Poor Knights) Islands near Whāngārei. There are now fewer than 100,000 breeding pairs left — down from an estimated 2.5 million during the 1980s.

What makes rako special?

  • Rako, like many of New Zealand’s petrels, breed in burrows instead of trees or bushes! This trait makes them vulnerable to introduced predators.
  • Rako are protective of their breeding grounds, crowding out most other petrel species and preventing them from breeding in these areas.
  • Rako are nocturnally active during the breeding season. At night, nesting grounds come alive with the rako’s cooing and groaning calls. Listen here.


  • Though they only breed in Aotearoa, rako can be found moulting and feeding around Japan and off the North American coast during our autumn and winter.

Oceanic manta rays

Oceanic manta rays are the largest of all manta rays. They frequent Aotearoa’s waters, but we know very little about the rays that come here. Manta Watch New Zealand was set up to find out more, specifically, whether the mantas seen here are seasonal visitors, or a distinct population.

What makes manta rays special?

  • They’re also known as the ‘giant manta ray’ for a reason. They grow up to seven metres across and weigh up to 3,000kg! 
  • A manta ray stranded on the Far North’s Rarawa Beach in early 2020, the first time on record — they normally sink to the ocean floor.
  • Manta rays also have the largest brain of any cold-blooded fish.
  • Manta rays are filter feeders, and cruise the open ocean, straining the water from plankton/krill. This filter-feeding strategy makes them vulnerable to ingesting small pieces of plastic.
  • Manta ray mouths are like a sieve, but they never get clogged by large particles due to a ricochet mechanism.
  • Manta rays do not have a poisonous spine in their tail like other stingray species.