New Zealand books at their best

under the ocean

Under the Ocean banner for web page

Ideas for children, parents and teachers to explore and discover New Zealand’s sea life


for children

crabWe came up with the idea of writing Under the Ocean when we were visiting schools to talk about our first book At the Beach. The children we talked to were very interested in big sea creatures – octopuses, rays, sharks, dolphins – so we knew that it would be worthwhile writing a book about these creatures and other animals that live in the sea.

The seas around New Zealand are home to other amazing ocean creatures – whales, albatrosses, penguins, giant squid and much, much more.

lace-coralSome of the sea creatures in Under the Ocean, can be seen from the coast, from boats, or out snorkelling. But some you will only see in museums, aquariums, or on film.

In our book, we have chosen sea creatures that we think are most interesting. Ned has drawn pictures of them to help you recognise them and to show you where they live. Gillian has written about the animals so you can learn more about them.dolphin


be a nature explorer

Get involved in a project at a marine reserve

● Find out if there is a project involving penguins or other sea birds near you
● Look out for ocean life when you are at the beach or travelling on holiday
● Follow YouTube channels about ocean life


Be safe around water

● In small boats, always wear a life jacket

● Learn to swim

● Make sure an adult is watching you when you are swimming or snorkelling

gillian candler – author

I live by the sea and have been lucky enough to see orca and whales in the bay where I live. I have also travelled to parts of New Zealand where you can see penguins, seals and dolphins. Not long ago I was on the Interislander ferry and saw little penguins swimming in the sea! Going snorkelling was one of the most amazing experiences – especially being amongst schools of fish and looking at other sea creatures in their natural environment.
I write a blog about nature:



Ned-Barraudned barraud – illustrator

When I grew up in Nelson we had a boat called Scuffy. It was a big old launch, and while chugging around the bays with my family I saw all sorts of amazing sealife. The most amazing thing I saw was a pod of pilot whales, so close I could almost touch their backs! A few years back I went to Thailand and learnt to scuba dive. I was lucky enough to see a whale shark, even though it was young it was still huge. Sea creatures are some of my most favourite things to draw … real and fantasy!

If you want to see some of my other pictures you can visit my site:

for parents and teachers

seahorseabout the book

In Under the Ocean, we decided not to use the term ‘continental shelf’. The Open Ocean on pages 12–15 describes animals that live over the continental shelf, i.e. the open ocean but still close to New Zealand. The Deep Ocean picture on pages 16–17 is beyond the continental shelf. For more about the depth of the sea around New Zealand and some interesting pictures and diagrams see:


reading the book

Here are some ideas for re-reading the book, things to look for and talk about and games to play:

  • Find a map of New Zealand and look for the places mentioned as you read the book.
  • If you have the hardcover edition, the inside cover has silhouettes of different creatures, find the matching animal in the book.
  • Use the fact pages to work out what animals are on pages 4–5: (humpback whale, gannets, fur seals, dusky dolphins).
  • Pages 6–7 show some reef and seafloor animals; moray eel, blue maomao fish, ray, carpet shark, blue cod. Ask what other animals might be living in the reef or on the sea floor – turn the pages to see if any of the animals they thought of are in the pictures. Note: this isn’t a right or wrong activity, more one of imagination.
  • thingyPages 12 and 13, get the child to tell you a story about what is happening in the picture.
  • Page 17, look up echolocation in the glossary to find out what it means.
  • Page 26, if you want to explain about fishing methods in the fishing facts box, turn back to pages 14–15 and ask the child to imagine trying to catch a specific fish in the picture, without catching any of the other animals. What kind of fishing device could they invent to do this?
  • The box on page 32 is about ‘looking after seals and penguins’ – what can we do to look after other animals in the ocean?
  • Page 34, look back in the book to find which pages some of these seabirds are illustrated on.


other activities

Ocean life can seem quite hidden and hard to observe, perhaps its the very secretive nature of the ocean that adds to the fascination children have with marine life.

gannetsThere are some easy ways to get to know more about New Zealand’s ocean.

  • Borrow books or DVDs from your local library.
  • Find YouTube channels that are dedicated to ocean life – you’ll be amazed what you can see online.
  • Take binoculars with you when you go to the beach or go out on a boat or ferry.
  • Visit aquariums and museums.
  • Find and read Maori legends associated with the sea, such as, Paikea the whale rider.
  • If you have an iPad or iPhone download the free ‘Moana – My Ocean’ marine life app from Auckland Museum to help with identification.
  • Join a local project such as, Marine Metre Squared, a beach clean-up, or making penguin nesting boxes.



A few hands-on activities


shagmore information about sea creatures Kiwi Conservation Club – content on this site is written for children Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand Department of Conservation New Zealand Birds Online Marine Life Database Marine Centre at Otago University, including Marine Metre Squared project Marine New Zealand information portal New Zealand Sealion Trustroughy West Coast Penguin Trust Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust Riley Elliott Shark Scientist Whale Watch Kaikoura Colossal squid information New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust Friends of Taputeranga Marine Reserve Nudibranchs Island Bay Marine Education Centresperm-whale water and atmospheric research New Zealand shellfish


curriculum links

Te Whariki
Strand 5: Exploration
Goal 4: Children experience an environment where they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds.

The New Zealand Curriculum: Science
Nature of Science
Investigating in Science, Communicating in Science






L1-2 Living World
Students will:

  • recognise that living things have certain requirements so they can stay alive
  • recognise that living things are suited to their particular habitat
  • recognise that there are lots of different living things in the world and that they can be grouped in different ways.

L1-2 Planet Earth and Beyond
Students will:giant-squid

  • Explore and describe natural features and resources


Classroom resources

For assessment and teaching ideas see:

Science Online


Science Learn

Department of Conservation for marine reserve field trip ideas and resources