International passengers from the cruise ship Dawn Princess who were on a Black Cat Cruises, Akaroa Harbour cruise or Swimming with Dolphins cruise were delighted to spot the first Hector's Dolphin calf of the season yesterday (Sunday 29 November). Black Cat Cruises Sales & Marketing Manager Natasha Lombart says the crew spotted four adults and a baby calf in the upper harbour near Wainui. "We are always so excited when calves are spotted as Hector's Dolphins are classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Because of their coastal habitat and slow reproductive rate they are particularly vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear, especially gill nets, so spotting the first calf today is a real milestone." "Seeing dolphin calves is brilliant, as Hector's Dolphins are endangered so it is a real thrill for both our crew and passengers to spot the first baby this season. Black Cat Cruises skipper Julian Yates said four adult Hector Dolphins were spotted in lovely clean water at Wainui and as they moved around they realised that a baby calf was with them. " The calf looked around just four weeks old, you can tell their age by the folds in their skin which help indicate how young the calf is, " says Yates. "Most of our passengers on both of our cruises today were international guests from the Cruise Ship so they were really excited to see such a rare species of new born baby. It was a real treat and so delightful. The dolphins were really friendly and kept coming up to the boat." Females usually have one calf every two to three years. The calves are 50 to 60 centimetres long at birth and stay close to their mothers who provide them with milk and protection for about a year until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Hector's Dolphins are among the most endangered dolphins in the world. The company has just celebrated 30 years in business and huge growth in passenger numbers over that time. In its first year in 1985 Black Cat carried less than 3,000 passengers but that annual number is now over the 3.5 million mark. The operator is adding extra services for the summer months at a time when Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism (CCT) chief executive Tim Hunter predicts tourism numbers into Canterbury could hit record levels. "Canterbury, particularly in terms of international visitors, will probably have a record number this year," Hunter says. "With the increase in the number of visitor arrivals growing at 7-8 per cent a year at the moment, and more international air services into New Zealand, it is certainly likely to be the best outcome we've seen for some time," Hunter says. This visitor growth bodes well for Black Cat Cruises.
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