A pod of dolphins have caused traffic chaos in Tauranga with motorists complaining about rubber-neckers stopping to look at the dolphins from the morning until the evening.

The dolphins, spotted frolicking in Tauranga's Waimapu Estuary, were being blamed for major traffic congestion in the city. The dolphins were there from at least 7am, when traffic began to move slowly.

About 5pm, a police media spokesperson said motorists were still calling in to complain of traffic delays on Turret Rd due to rubber-neckers stopping to look at the dolphins.

People trying to watch the marine creatures Waimapu Estuary had meant traffic travelling along Turret Rd has become heavily congested.

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A Bay of Plenty Times photographer at the scene on Friday morning said there were about 50-60 people watching the dolphins from the Silver Birch campground and traffic heading towards town was backed up over the Hairini Bridge.

"There is not a lot of water," he said. "They are just swimming backwards and forwards over about a 200m-300m area."

Dolphins have been spotted swimming in a Tauranga Estuary. Photo/Andrew Warner
Dolphins have been spotted swimming in a Tauranga Estuary. Photo/Andrew Warner

Silver Birch Holiday Park manager Sharon Makai said people had arrived before 7am to watch the dolphins.

"We had people here before I got out of bed," she said. "You can't deny them access, it is just so beautiful."

Makai said 10-11-year-olds from a nearby primary school had also arrived to watch the show.

"It is very quiet," she said. "People are scared they might scare them [dolphins] away."

There have been reports of motorists "blocking the road" to look at the dolphins swimming underneath the bridge.

"[There are] heaps of cars parked up and people crossing the roads," a reader commented on the Bay of Plenty Times Facebook page.

A pod of dolphins have been seen swimming in Tauranga waters. Photo/Andrew Warner
A pod of dolphins have been seen swimming in Tauranga waters. Photo/Andrew Warner

A police media spokeswoman said police received calls from members of the public between 9am-9.30am who had reported traffic had stopped on Turret Rd as people were looking at dolphins.

"The traffic was backed up from Turret Rd to Welcome Bay Rd," she said.

Acting head of Western Bay of Plenty road policing Sergeant Wayne Hunter said traffic was backed up after a "nose to tail" crash at Haukore St just past the bridge.

"It was nothing major," he said.

Hunter did not believe the crash was related to a distraction from dolphins.

Department of Conservation Tauranga ranger supervisor Jessyca Bernard said a pod of about 15-18 bottlenose dolphins, including a couple of juveniles, had been swimming in the estuary since very early in the morning.

"We are just assuming they followed some food in," she said. "They are all looking pretty calm."

Bernard said the dolphins were not trapped in the low tide and were able to swim under the bridge when they wanted to.

"We are guessing they are being very careful and patient about finding their way back out," she said.

There were many people watching the dolphins and Bernard said people had to be aware not to disturb them.

Bernard said it was great to see so many people watching the dolphins, however she advised people to watch them from land. People on water craft were advised not to get too close.

"Leave the water to the dolphins," she said.

Bottlenose dolphins were an open water species and said it was unusual to see a pod that size swimming in shallow water, Bernard said. "It is very interesting."

Tauranga kayaker and eager marine conservationist Nathan Pettigrew said there had been an increasing number of dolphin sightings in the last few years.

Pettigrew said the bottlenose dolphins spotted in Waimapu Estuary had been seen in the area for the last 5-6 weeks and had spent most of their time in Omokoroa.

"They are quite happy spending time in really shallow water," he said. "It is quite normal."

What was unusual was where they were swimming in the estuary which was "particularly tricky" to escape for marine life.

"It is a bit more concerning and we need to keep an eye on them, but they seem pretty happy," he said.

A man was seen jumping in the water where the dolphins were swimming which Pettigrew said blocked the dolphin's path and warned it was illegal to swim with dolphin calves.

Pettigrew also reminded people not to fly drones under 150m after seeing one being flown over the dolphins. "It is just commonsense," he said.


DOLPHIN FACTS:
•Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) have separate coastal populations centred on Fiordland, Cook Strait and north-eastern New Zealand (Northland to Eastern Bay of Plenty)
•The main coastal population centred in the Bay of Plenty is about 450 individuals
•NZ is their southern-most range
•The Maori name for a Bottlenose Dolphin is terehu
•They are up to 4m in length, the largest of the NZ dolphin species
•They have a hooked dorsal fin, a large dark grey body, to white on the underside, and a short 'beak'.
•Each has its own signature call and recognise each other.
•Individuals living close to the shore feed primarily on a variety of inshore bottom-dwelling fish and invertebrate species. Those offshore feed on mid-water fish species and oceanic squid.
•Sharks are probably the most important predators of bottlenose dolphins with the numerous shark-bite scars found on as many as half of all bottlenose dolphins providing evidence of such encounters. Killer whales are also likely to be one of the main predators.
•Bottlenose dolphins are particularly susceptible to human impacts due to their coastal nature.
•Studies have found the presence of boats to interfere with dolphins' normal behaviour and boat strike in areas of high boating activity is always a threat. Common sense rules should therefore apply when boating around dolphins to reduce stress on the animals. Such rules are outlined in the Marine Mammal Protection Regulations (1992).

If you find yourself among a pod of dolphins:
•Operate your boat slowly and quietly at 'no wake' speed within 300m.
•Don't approach a group of dolphins if three or more boats are already within 300m of the group.
•Manoeuvre your boat carefully. Do not obstruct their path, cut through a group, or separate mothers from calves.
•Avoid loud or sudden noises that could startle dolphins.
•Don't swim with dolphins when calves are present.
•Don't try to touch the dolphins or feed them.
•Co-operate with others so all may see the dolphins without putting them at risk.

Source: Department of Conservation Tauranga