The New Zealand government is banning tourists from swimming with bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands. This is just one of several new protections announced by the Department of Conservation last week.
The new permit rules came into effect on July 1, 2019, and apply to all commercial operators active in the area. As well as bans on swimming with bottlenose dolphins, the permit restrictions require operators to restrict viewing and interaction time to a maximum of 20 minutes per trip and limit locations for these activities by closing off areas around Tapeka Point and Roberton Island.
The Department additionally requires operators to restrict viewing to the morning or the afternoon but not both to ensure there is a significant block of time where no human-dolphin interactions can take place.
The decisions were made following various pieces of research that show too much interplay between humans and dolphins can influence the latter's resting and feeding behavior. One study, published in Endangered Species Research in 2010, for example, found that swimming too close to and/or touching bottlenose dolphins is extremely stressful for the animals and could cause psychological problems that prevent them from resting, feeding, and nurturing their young.
The permit updates also come after research found a calf mortality rate of 75 percent in local populations. That, they say, is not just the highest reported in New Zealand, but the highest seen internationally or in captivity. What's more, the number of dolphins in the Bay of Islands has drastically declined (66 percent) since 1999 – there is now a core group of just 19 individuals that frequently visit the islands.
These highly intelligent, oftentimes horny, and sometimes sinister creatures are listed as a species of "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List, and can be found in most of the world's (non-polar) waters. The bottlenose dolphin's incredibly social nature (both for its own kind and other species) makes it a popular attraction for tourists – and "swim with dolphins" a must-do activity on many a bucket list.
As the Department of Conservation puts it on their press release, people are "loving the dolphins too much". Not only can this encourage inhumane practices (see: dolphins in captivity having their teeth removed), it can cause trauma to the animals involved.
Hopefully, these new regulations will let dolphins live, play, and get high (on pufferfish) in peace.