Observe dolphin etiquette


The Department of Conservation is urging boaties to follow a few simple rules of "dolphin etiquette" in Northland this summer.

DoC Bay of Islands marine mammals ranger Karen Mitchell said people might be enjoying a relaxing summer holiday, but for wild animals like dolphins and whales it could be a busy time of year.

Now was when dolphin-human contact was at its greatest, with more people in the water as well as more of the marine mammals.

"They really do need their time out from people, especially during the holidays, so we ask people to leave them alone between 11.30am and 1pm. This means they can do what they need to do without having to worry about any boats around them," Ms Mitchell said.

"Boats approaching dolphins should come in slowly, at 'no wake' speed, from behind. Please don't drive through a pod or cut them off."

No more than three boats at a time should approach within 300m of dolphins; other boaties should wait their turn and keep it short and sweet, about 10 minutes, so everyone had a chance to see the dolphins.

She also urged people not to swim with calves (less than a metre in length) or juveniles (less than 2m), because they were too young to know how to cope with humans.

"We're all looking to eat, sleep and relax over the holidays and it's important that the dolphins get enough rest from boat interaction as they may get tired, which can affect their health and reproduction," she said.

Thirteen species of dolphin live around the coastline, and the marine mammals have a special place in mythologies from many parts of the world, as protectors and friends of humans. Maori have a strong and ancient relationship with dolphins, which they generally call aihe, and they are fully protected under NZ law.

In November 2004, a pod of dolphins made international headlines when they protected four humans from a great white shark at Whangarei's Ocean Beach.

On that day lifeguard Rob Howes and a group of Whangarei Heads Surf Lifesaving Club members, including Howes' daughter Nicky, Karina Cooper and Helen Slade, were on a training swim 100m out to sea and were suddenly surrounded by a group of dolphins.

The dolphins started circling the group and slapping their fins on the water. It was then that a lifeguard saw a great white shark and realised the dolphins were protecting the group from a shark attack.

The Northern Advocate broke the story and it made headlines around the world. In 2006 UK documentary-makers, Big Wave Productions, made a documentary on the rescue Saved by Dolphins.

- Northern Advocate

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