A pod of 300 rarely-sighted dolphins have been spotted off the coast of Kaikoura.

The southern right whale dolphins caused quite a stir amongst tourist boats, researchers and photographers yesterday as the large pod raced off shore. They are one of the few genus without a dorsal fin.

A boat doing sperm whale research put out the call when they spotted the pod, Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura owner Dennis Buurman said.

He rushed out to follow them as that last time he saw the "spectacular dolphin" was almost a decade ago.

"It was just brilliant. Everyone was so happy, some crew had never seen them before.

"They are very sleek, they are beautiful dolphins all right."

The southern right whale dolphins were racing away from the Kaikoura coastline. Photo / Fiona Wardle
The southern right whale dolphins were racing away from the Kaikoura coastline. Photo / Fiona Wardle

Buurman said they used to spot the dolphins, which are also called lissodelphis, every winter. They would often come near Kaikoura and mix in with the dusky dolphins in July or August, particularly in the 1990s.

He said they could be hard to spot as they moved so fast. He said the pod yesterday were swimming around 8 knots.

"One minute they're going one way then next minute the other. They just seem to do everything at pace. They love racing around.

"We were quite concerned we hadn't seen them in so long we were beginning to wonder what on earth had happened to them.

"So it's just amazing to see them and in such big numbers."

The protected dolphin travels in groups of up to 1000 individuals, with 52 being the average group size.

Adults are between 2m and 3m long and weigh up to 100kg.

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Posted by Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura on Friday, 2 June 2017