To Save Its Bottle Nose Dolphins, New Zealand Banned Swimming With Them Near Bay of Islands
The New Zealand government has banned tourists from swimming with the beloved bottlenose dolphins off the Bay of Islands in the northernmost peninsula of the country's north island.
The dolphins are essentially dying from too much frolicking with tourists and have been classified by New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DoC) as endangered. Heavy boat traffic has the dolphins spending too much time socializing with tourists rather than performing critical behaviors like eating, sleeping and nursing their young, according to the Independent. A recent study by the New Zealand DoC said that human interaction was "having a significant impact on the population's resting and feeding behavior."
The dolphins live in a sub-tropical area of New Zealand known for its stunning beaches and its warm water. The popularity of the area as a tourist destination has caused the dolphin population to plummet from 270 in 1999 to a current estimate of 31, a fall of almost 90 percent, as the Telegraph reported.
The numbers in the report are bleak. A group of only 19 bottlenose dolphins regularly visit the Bay of Islands. From that group, there is a 75 percent mortality rate among their calves. That is the highest mortality rate not only in New Zealand, but also internationally, in the wild and in captivity, according to the Telegraph.
The researchers also noted that the dolphins spent 86 percent of daylight hours near one boat. To change that trend, the DoC not only banned tourists from swimming with dolphins, but also mandated that tour boats may interact with dolphins for no more than 20 minutes. Also, all tour operators will have to visit the dolphins in either the morning or the afternoon so there is a significant chunk of time where the dolphins are left alone, as the Guardian reported.
"The dolphins often swim towards boats themselves and you simply can't put a barrier around them or monitor every interaction they have," said Sue Reed-Thomas, the DOC's northern North Island director of operations, as the Independent reported. "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."
In a plea to save their industry, tour operators warned that the new ban would cripple tourism in the area. They also said that fewer tour operators on the water means fewer people monitoring how private boats interact with the vulnerable dolphin population, according to the Guardian.
The DoC does not seem too sympathetic as it is considering partnering with Maori tribes and researchers to start a marine mammal sanctuary in the Bay of Islands.
Tourists can still swim with dolphins in New Zealand's south island where the populations are much healthier, according to the Guardian.