According to the 2001 census, the permanent resident population is 2,104, a 5% decrease since the 1996 census.
The Kaikoura Peninsula extends into the sea south of the town, and the resulting upwelling currents bring an abundance of marine life from the depths of the nearby Hikurangi Trench. The town owes its origin to this effect, since it developed as a centre for the whaling industry. The name 'Kaikoura' means 'The cooking place of crayfish', and the crayfish industry is a major contributor to the economy of the region. However Kaikoura has now become a popular tourist destination, mainly for whale watching (the Sperm Whale watching is perhaps the best and most developed in the world) and swimming with or near dolphins. There is also a large and readily observed colony of Southern Fur Seals at the edge of the town.
It is also one of the best reasonably accessible places in the world to see open ocean seabirds such as albatrosses.
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