Wildlife that can be seen on a Milford Sound cruise

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Southern fur seals (also known as Antarctic fur seals) inhabit in the fiord all year round. They are able to bring their rear flippers under their body and take the weight of their body on their fore-flippers. There are much more agile on land compared to other seals such as the weddell, crabeater and elephant seals. Male Southern fur seals can reach 200kg (440lb) and can be up to four times larger than the females.

These seals were hunted almost to extinction in the early 1800’s when their fur was sought by the fashion industry. Since then, these seals have made a great comeback and can be seen when cruising through Milford Sound. Seal Rock is one of the few places in the fiord where the Southern Fur seal is able to climb up out of the water onto the rocks as most of the sides of the fiord are vertical.

Fiordland Crested Penguin


Fiordland crested penguins or ‘Tawaki’ are a regular sight during the breeding season (July to November) and it’s always exciting to spot them knowing how rare and special they are.  The Fiordland crested penguin is one of the rarest of New Zealand’s mainland penguins.

Tawaki are monogamous and often mate for life. Although the pairs separate when not breeding, females return each year to the same beach in search of their mate from the previous season. Females lay two white eggs by the end of August. The first egg is generally smaller than the second, and most first eggs fail to hatch, or the chicks die of starvation within ten days of hatching. Tawaki cannot raise more than one chick per season, and the first egg is thought to be an insurance policy in case the second egg does not survive. Chicks are brooded by the male, who goes without food for the first three weeks. The chicks are fed by both parents until they become independent and leave the colony in late November or early December.

Penguins are unusual in that they are one of the few bird species that moult all their feathers simultaneously, this usually takes place every year from mid-January to early March.  The moulting takes about two weeks and is very stressful to the birds – they cannot enter the sea during the moult because they have no waterproof, insulating coat. This means they do not feed and so lose up to half of their body weight during moulting. This leaves them highly vulnerable to predators at this time.

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Bottlenose dolphins are commonly seen in Milford Sound along with occasional visits from dusky dolphins and are usually part of a resident pod that centres itself around Milford Sound often coming into the fiord. Up to three metres long and weighing almost 300 kilograms, they are amongst some of the largest dolphins around New Zealand coastlines.

More than 60 bottlenose dolphins inhabit the area, and can be seen riding the bow wave on our small boat Encounter Nature Cruise or getting up close and personal with kayakers.





Southern right whale_@David Newman_4

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale’s visit Milford Sound rarely. They are usually seen around the mainland of New Zealand and appear to be part of the New Zealand subantarctic population.  These whales can come very close to shore. Adults average 14-15metres in size and newborn calves between 4.5-6 metres. They are mostly black in colour and can easily be identified by lack of a dorsal fin, a V-shaped blowhole spray and white growth on their heads called callosities. Approximately 10,000 southern right whales are spread throughout the southern hemisphere.

Southern Discoveries encourages “gentle viewing” of any wildlife encountered on our cruises.  Using the smaller Encounter Nature Cruise boat we are able to get close to wildlife without disturbing them.


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