Tourists have been banned from swimming with dolphins in New Zealand over concerns they are “loving them too much”.
New Zealand’s Bay of Islands region — off the coast of the main north island — has seen a huge decline in numbers of dolphins and a massive increase in the mortality rates for calves over the past two decades, according to the country's Department of Conservation.
In a statement to Euronews, the government confirmed that swimming with bottle-nose dolphins in the Bay of Islands would be prohibited for three years.
Meanwhile, tour boats are permitted to watch the mammals reduced from half an hour to 20 minutes, and only during certain times in the morning or afternoon, in order to give the dolphins time when they are undisturbed by humans.
It comes after research showed a 66% decline in bottle-nose dolphins visiting the Bay of Islands waters and a 65% calf mortality rate, the highest in the world.
Only 19 bottle-nose dolphins now visit the area on a regular basis.
'Loving them too much'
“Research shows that interactions with the bottle-nose dolphins is having a significant impact on the populations resting and feeding behaviour and that people are ‘loving the dolphins too much’,” a spokesperson said.
The new regulations will mostly impact commercial companies that offer swimming with dolphins and do not address interactions between dolphins and private boats. As a result, the government is considering turning the Bay of Islands into a marine mammal sanctuary.
“The Bay of Islands bottle-nose dolphin population can only be protected if everyone plays their part,” the statement said.
Dolphin-swimming is a popular tourist activity worldwide, but in recent years a focus on ethical travel - particularly when it comes to animals - has seen other countries impose restrictions.
In May, Hawaii considered plans to ban swimming with spinner dolphins - or ‘naia’ - over concerns that mass tourism was hurting the mammals.