New Zealand’s Department of Conservation announced a ban on tourists swimming with bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands, this being just one of several new protection regulations which came into effect on 1 July.
The new permit rules apply to all commercial operators in the area and over and above the ban on swimming with the dolphins, operators are restricted to viewing and interaction time to a maximum 20 minutes per trip and the areas around Tapeka Point and Roberton Island have been closed to these activities.
In addition, operators are required to restrict viewing to either the morning or afternoon to ensure there is a significant block of time daily when no human-dolphin interaction take place.
These decisions followed research showing that too much interaction between the two species can affect the dolphins resting and feeding behavior. A 2010 study published in Endangered Species Research found that bottlenose dolphins became highly stressed with humans swimming to close or touching them, which could cause psychological issues preventing them from resting, feeding and nurturing their young.
Research also found a high calf mortality rate of 75% in local populations, the highest seen internationally or in captivity. The number of dolphins in the Bay of Islands has also drastically dropped by 66% since 1999 leaving a group of only 19 individuals that frequently visit the islands.
Listed as a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, bottlenose dolphins are found in most of the world’s non-polar waters. They are highly intelligent and unbelievably social by nature, within their own and other species which no doubt contributed to the ”swimming with dolphins” phenomena.
The Department of Conservation puts it in a nutshell in their press release: ‘’people are loving the dolphins too much”.
Perhaps our growing understanding of and compassion for the animals we share our planet with will restore the balance in nature for future generations.