Marine Life Around Waiheke Island

What do we see while diving on Waiheke Island

One of the reasons we all love diving is due to the awesome marine life we get to hang out with. But what actually lives in the waters around Waiheke Island? Here we’ve given a run down of our favourite and most common sightings around the island. 

Eagle Ray 

These beauties are one of our favourites! With pointed ‘wings’ (think diamond shape) and a bulbous head they are easy to differentiate from their stingray cousins. Usually olive green or brown in colour, with grey or blue markings and a white underneath. They have a small dorsal fin and a barbed spine on the tail. They can grow up to a huge 3m wingspan tip to tip. 


They love the bays around Waiheke Island, particularly on sunny days, most commonly spotted resting in the sand shallows of Sandy Bay. They are timid by nature but by swimming or snorkelling slowly, you will be able to observe these majestic animals. Be sure you don’t make any sudden movements though, they can be pretty quick when they want to be and will disappear from sight. 

Strong flat plates in their jaws are used for crushing hard-shelled prey such as shellfish or crabs, they eat the tender meat from inside and will leave behind piles of broken shells.

Short-tailed Stingray and Long-tailed Stingray 

Another favourite of the Waiheke Dive team, they have rounder wings and a less prominent head than their Eagle Ray cousins. Dark grey or black on the top with a white underneath. The short tails have a row of (often faint) white spots along the top of their wings, and a tail the same length as, or shorter than the body. The long tails do not have the white spots, the tail is more whip-like and can be up to twice the length of the body. 

They also enjoy the sandy shallow bays around Waiheke Island and have regularly been spotted at Enclosure Bay as well as Sandy Bay, preferring the warmer seasons they are much more common throughout summer and tend to be scarcer as the water cools down. Eating habits are the same as Eagle Rays and they bear live young. 

Stingrays have one or more barbed spines on their tail, they are not however aggressive animals and will only attack when accidentally stepped on or harassed. 

Smooth Pipefish 

Can you spot the smooth pipefish in this picture? 

Smooth pipefish can be quite tricky to find, but are actually in abundance hiding in the kelp in Waiheke’s waters. They have a slender body and long snout, are usually yellow or brown in colour with a row of black dots along the back, though these can be less prominent in the juveniles. This colouring works really well as camouflage in the vegetation they live in.  

The pipefish belong to the same family as the seahorse, meaning that like the seahorse, it is the male in the species who carries the eggs (up to 200 at a time) which have been deposited into a pouch by the female. They are carnivores and eat a diet of small crustaceans and plankton. 

They are fast, eel-like swimmers who stay close to the vegetation they are hiding in and can disappear very quickly into this if they get scared. Our instructors love finding these so will gladly point them out to you when we do. 


The kingfish are an incredible predator and super impressive to see when we’re lucky enough to witness them in hunting mode. They have a long streamlined body, green on the top half and white the bottom, separated by a green-gold stripe which runs from nose to tail. They can grow up to 2m in length and can weigh up to 70kg.

They can be seen singly or in large schools of similar size, sometimes schooling with other species such as trevally or koheru. Kingfish are ferocious predators and eat a range of smaller fish. They usually cruise around slowly but have great acceleration when pursuing their prey. Unfortunately not a species we see on every dive but they are definitely around the Waiheke waters, I’m sure you can see why we get excited when we spot them. 


One of Adam’s favourite underwater sightings, hardly surprising as it was the first marine animal he spotted on a dive here after starting up the shop 3 years ago. Unfortunately not as common a sighting as we would like here on Waiheke, but as proof, this picture is one Jake spotted over the summer. I sadly, have yet to see my first seahorse over in New Zealand. The species we have over here is cutely nick-named the ‘pot-bellied seahorse’ for obvious reasons. 

They have a tail capable of grasping, allowing them to stick to their seaweed homes during currents, a cute protruding belly and tube-like snout. Commonly yellow or brown with darker spots and bands, however colour, body shape, snout length are all highly variable. They are born (male carrying the young) at around 17mm in length and can grow up to 30cm.

Seahorses are usually found entwined in seaweed or kelp, often where they will make the same area home for their entire lives. They can swim slowly forwards in an upright position, or more rapidly with the body stretched forward at a 45 degree angle. They survive on a diet of small crustaceans, fish eggs and larvae, which they suck into their mouths as if using a drinking straw. 

The thick kelp forests around Enclosure Bay is the perfect site for searching for these little beauties. 

Common Octopus 

My personal favourite marine animal! These creatures are incredible and simply stunning. Some of my favourite octopus facts:

  • they can change colour and texture at will (they have one of the best camouflage in the ocean for this reason)
  • have 3 hearts and blue blood
  • all species are thought to be venomous
  • have been observed using tools
  • have up to 240 suckers on their tentacles, which are sensitive, can pick up chemical signals and move independently
  • due to their lack of bones, they can squeeze into tiny spaces

Wow ok thats a lot of cool octopus facts! We’re lucky enough to see these incredible creatures in the Waiheke waters. Though great hiders and nocturnal hunters, look out for their give away sign of crustacean shells from a tasty lunch thrown outside of their hidey holes, and head for the rocky reef rather than sandy bottoms for your best chance of spotting around Waiheke. 

According to legend, the Polynesian navigator Kupe was led to New Zealand by the giant octopus Te Wheke-o-Muturangi. Intent on killing the octopus that was robbing his tribe of fish, Kupe, along with his family and some warriors, set out in a large canoe to hunt it down. The octopus swam south for weeks and eventually took shelter near Cook Strait, where Kupe found it. After a ferocious battle, Kupe tricked the octopus into wrapping its arms around some water containers, and killed it with a blow to the head.


The favourite spot of our instructor Jake, and with over 3,000 different species there is no wonder. These sea slugs come in an incredible range of shapes, sizes and some neon-bright colours. They inhabit the ocean floors worldwide, from tropical and temperate waters, to Antarctica and hydrothermal vents. 

These fascinating creatures often have their gills and anus on the outside of their bodies, yep that’s the flower like protrusions you see on their backs. Although some can swim short distances, most are found on the ocean floor where they move on a flat, broad muscle called a foot, which leaves a slimy trail. They can’t move too quickly, so it is important that they are able to reproduce whenever the situation presents itself. For this reason they are hermaphrodites, having both male and female reproductive organs, they lay masses of eggs in a beautiful spiral or coil shape. 

Unlike most colourful species, the bright colours are not intended to attract a mate (they can actually only see light and dark), it is derived from their diet, nudibranchs are carnivores whose diet consists of coral, sponges, fish eggs and in some species other nudibranchs. They can also recycle and reuse venoms ingested from some of their prey. 

You can probably tell, ‘Nudis’ are one of the animals I could talk about all day. so feel free to chat with us if you want to know more. We find nudibranchs at all of our dive sites throughout the year but our species prefer the colder water and are definitely more common as the water cools down and during the winter months. 


I don’t know what it is about these guys but I just find them so cute! What do you think? 

They have a distinct body shape and dorsal spine, can vary in colour from almost white to dark brown, some have spots on the body and/or stripes on the head. Males have a yellow-green tail with a fine black band near the back and females have a grey-brown tail. They will eat almost anything, often grazing from the rocks but have also been known to be brave enough to face the spikes of kina to get to their tasty flesh. 

Leatherjackets can grow up to 45cm in length. We usually see the juveniles around the coast of Waiheke as, once they grow to around 10cm after only 4 months, they start to head out to more open ocean habitats. 

John Dory 

Adam being Adam, couldn’t have just just one favourite, so up there with the seahorse sits the John Dory. These hunters are a rare find in Waiheke which just makes them so much more special when they are seen. Silver, grey or light brown in colour, they have a black spot ringed in silver, with a body so thin they are almost invisible when seen face on. 

When hunting, the John Dory stalks prey from behind, taking advantage of the preys’ blind spot. When they are only centimeters away they shoot out their long mouth tube and swallow the victim whole. Often solitary animals they hunt by day but can be seen in large congregations, which are assumed to be associated with spawning, from December until April. 

These clever carnivores can grow up to 40cm and live up to 9 years, with the females growing larger and living longer than the males. 

What else??

We have so many different species in our waters it would be impossible for me to go through them all, so I have listed some of our favourite and unusual ones. We have so much to offer such as snapper, red moki, spotty wrasse, parore, piper, triple fins, goatfish and squid plus much much more! We are always happy to chat about our marine life so feel free to ask us anytime. 

Want to find out for yourself and go searching for some of our favourites? Check out our website to book a water activity with us, or contact us for more information. Let us know in the comments below what you’ve seen here on Waiheke or tell us about your favorite marine life. 

Lucy and The Waiheke Dive Team