Posted by: The ocean update | May 24, 2016

Dolphin ‘harassment’ in the Marlborough Sounds (New Zealand)

A dolphin struck by a boat. DOC

A dolphin struck by a boat. DOC

May 24th, 2016 (Heather Simpson). Boaties have been warned off harassing and hooning around dolphins.

The Department of Conservation urged boaties to slow down in the Marlborough Sounds to avoid injuring the marine mammals and disrupting feeding grounds.

Boatie Pete Davison saw a boat travelling at 30 knots plough through a pod of 10 dolphins on Sunday morning near Karaka Point.

“I was absolutely shocked. Either they didn’t think or didn’t see them.”

The sheltered bays in the Marlborough Sounds were home to more than 200 bottlenose dolphins and during winter 100 dusky dolphins.

DOC community ranger Wendy Sullivan said recreational boaties should slow down, leaving no wake, if they saw a pod.

She warned against cutting through a pod, which risked injury, splitting up mothers and their calves and disturbing feeding grounds.

No more than three boats were allowed within 300 metres of a pod but people could swim with dolphins.

“A lot of dolphins energetically gather bait into a bait ball where a school of fish are gathered and the dolphins pick them off.

“Driving through a pod is a bit like a family enjoying a meal and a loud vehicle hoons right past.

“It will disrupt their normal behaviour whether it is communicating, feeding, resting or sleeping.”

Dolphins loved to chase boats surfing along waves at the bow and stern. But dragging dolphins in the wake of a speeding boat interrupted their normal behaviour, she said.

Sullivan said the problem was heightened in the tourist season.

“Generally people want to do the right behaviour. I don’t think people maliciously cut through pods. Maybe they don’t see them or don’t think. It could be a bigger problem if we don’t educate boaties.

“We love to see dolphins and watch them. Just sit back and let them behave naturally.

“If there has been malicious behaviour with intent to disturb or harm dolphins we will prosecute.”

No recreational boaties in Marlborough had been prosecuted, Sullivan said.

E-Ko Nature Tours owner Paul Keating said he had seen multiple dolphins in the Sounds with propeller marks but it could not be ascertained where they were injured.

“Five dolphins in the Sounds with missing fins were nicknamed stumpy,” he said.

Last week, he witnessed a launch approach a pod of dolphins and women on board were trying to grab the dolphins’ fins.

“The dolphins had their heads underwater near the propellers.

“Dolphins are very curious. Bottlenose dolphin have the intelligence of a 10-year-old.

“We have an asset in this marine mammal. We have to protect them. People get excited but if we damage this mammal they will go away.”

In the Bay of Islands bad boat practices cut the dolphin population from 278 to 96 inside 15 years.

“Harassment of the animals will cause them to go the same ways as the Bay of Islands. They will stop feeding and coming here.”

Bad boat practices should be reported to DOC detailing the boat registration, name, and a photograph or video of the incident.

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