A humpback whale mother and calf had tourists excited in the Bay of Islands.
A humpback whale mother and calf had tourists excited in the Bay of Islands. Gemma Langsdale

Whale of a tale spectacle

A PAIR of humpback whales thrilled tourists in the Bay of Islands, breaching several times out of the water in full display.

The mother and calf were seen in Oke Bay about an hour into a "swim with the dolphins" cruise that left Paihia.

"We were just heading into the bay when we saw them, and there was just excitement on board," said photographer Gemma Langsdale, who works for the cruise operator, Explore NZ.

"We do get humpback whales during the winter time, but I've been working on the boat for four years, and I've never seen them do that before."

She said people on the boat were just "screaming with excitement".

Ms Langsdale said although the group later swam with a pod of dolphins, it was still "the whales they were talking about".

University of Auckland marine mammal scientist Rochelle Constantine said it was not unusual for humpbacks to be seen in the Bay of Islands or even Auckland at this time of the year.

"The southern migration of humpbacks occurs from around September to December, and the Bay of Islands is right along the path," she said.

"Sightings of whales have been slowly increasing over the last 10 years, and any sighting is just great news.

"Every year or two, we get a mother and calf pair spotted ... these whales are moving back to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic ..."

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