Why New Zealand has banned swimming with bottlenose dolphins

Marine mammals are being loved into extinction by affectionate tourists

(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

New Zealand has banned tourists from swimming with bottlenose dolphins in an effort to protect the species.

Research carried out by the country’s Department of Conservation (DOC) indicated that human visitors were “loving the dolphins too much” and human interaction was “having a significant impact on the population’s resting and feeding behaviour”.

The number of dolphins frequently visiting New Zealand’s Bay of Islands has dropped by 66% since 1999, and only 19 dolphins now return regularly.

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In 2016 a Massey University report found the Bay of Island’s bottlenose dolphins were “being loved into extinction” because of so much human interaction.

The new rules ban swimming with dolphins, and also place restrictions on licensed tour operators taking people and boats out on to the water, reports the BBC.

Tour operators are restricted to approaching bottlenose dolphins only in the morning or the afternoon to give the marine mammals a break, says Stuff NZ.

“It’s very difficult to manage a group of wild animals swimming freely,” said Sue Reed-Thomas, DOC North Island director of operations, following the 2016 study. “The dolphins often swim towards boats themselves and you simply can’t put a barrier around them or monitor every interaction they have.

“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.”

Will other countries follow suit?

Hawaii is close to following New Zealand’s lead and placing a ban on swimming with dolphins, reports Bloomberg. Federal officials are in the final stages of banning swimming with Hawaiian spinner dolphins.

Costa Rican authorities outlawed swimming with dolphins in 2005 over concerns for the animals’ well-being, reported The Telegraph at the time.

And in 2018, Mexico City officially banned dolphinariums, in the wake of bans introduced by Chile, Costa Rica, and Croatia.

Animal tourism has been a popular pursuit for holidaymakers worldwide, but it is now becoming a contentious topic as more emphasis is placed on conservation and animal welfare.

This year Metro reported that a group of elephants forced to offer rides at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple will be retired and transferred to a conservation centre in 2020.

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