A pair of some of the rarest whales in the world have been seen in the waters off the Kaikoura Coast.

The critically endangered Shepherd's beaked whales were seen this week when they rose out of the water in front of a whale-watching vessel.

Whale Watch Kaikoura Sea Crew member Allan Cronin managed to photograph the pair in a moment he described on social media as an "awesome encounter".

He said there were fewer than 20 validated sightings of the species across the world with nearly half occurring in New Zealand.

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Cronin posted that the whales were elusive, stealthy deep divers with most of what was known about them gleaned from carcasses washed up on beaches.

There had only been a few cases of confirmed sightings in the world and just a handful in New Zealand.

Whale Watch Kaikoura posted that the sighting was an epic encounter for those on board at the time.

"How amazing for our passengers to experience such a rare encounter," said the post.