The government of New Zealand has banned tourists from swimming with bottlenose dolphins off the Bay of Islands. The decision comes in light of research that has shown how human interaction is causing a decline in the number of dolphins, according to Lonely Planet.
Why has the ban been put in place?
The ban on swimming with the majestic creatures applies to tour operators in the North Island’s Bay of Islands, a region consisting of 144 islands. The region has diverse marine life making it extremely popular among visitors. Research has proved that visitors were “loving the dolphins too much” and human interaction was “having a significant impact on the population’s resting and feeding behaviour,” according to the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Presently, bottlenose dolphins in the Bay spend 86% of their daylight hours in the presence of at least once boat. Therefore, in order to give them large periods of human-free time, the DOC is also restricting dolphin-watching boat tours to mornings and afternoons only. Interaction time will be cut back from 30 minutes to only 20.
Bottlenose dolphins are endangered in New Zealand
Bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand are endangered because the three main populations are small and more vulnerable than elsewhere in the world. The dolphin population in the Bay of Islands has plummeted from 270 in 1999 to about 31 today, which is a serious cause for concern. Latest reports have also shown a 75% mortality rate among their calves. According to the DOC, the cause for this is attributed to the high volume of boat trips in the area which are causing dolphins to spend less time “feeding, nursing their young and sleeping.” They interact with humans instead.
“It’s very difficult to manage a group of wild animals swimming freely. The dolphins often swim towards boats themselves and you simply can’t put a barrier around them or monitor every interaction they have,” Sue Reed-Thomas, DOC Northern North Island Director of Operations said in an earlier statement. “Everyone who puts a boat on the water in the Bay of Islands needs to be aware of the problem so they play their part in protecting the local dolphin population.”
This ban is only applicable to tour operators in the Bay of Islands. Other boat tours that interact with different species of dolphin in New Zealand have none of these restrictions so far.