Plummeting numbers puts pause on swimming with Bay of Islands dolphins

Plummeting numbers of bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands means swimming with the popular sea creature will no longer be on the cards for locals and tourists in the region.

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The activity loved by thousands of tourists is no longer ok in the bay. Source: Seven Sharp

The Department of Conservation has been studying the species in the area for the past 10 years and found patterns have changed.

DOC Marine Ranger, Dr Cat Peters says the dolphins are spending a lot more time playing rather than resting.

“What they are doing is spending less time doing feeding and resting behaviours and more time socialising and playing around the boats,” she says.

But the population has also reduced.

“Dolphin numbers have gone from nearly 300 unique individuals down to 19 frequently using the Bay of Islands,” she says. 

Three companies had permits for the region, with each boat allowing up to 18 people in the water at the time.

Ms Peters says all boats, not just commercial but private and recreational boats put a lot of pressure on the dolphins.

“The research actually looked at all vessel types and found we need to make changes across the board,” she says.

With similar dolphin operations in the Bay of Plenty, Marlborough Sounds, Akaroa and Kaikoura, there are concern that this could be the end of swimming with dolphins in New Zealand.

“It will really depend on each species and each unique situation in every area," Ms Peters says.