This 2016 report pertains to a DOC commissioned research project on the impacts of vessel activity on bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands.

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Presently, three commercial marine mammal tourism operators are permitted to view and swim with bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Concerns over the local decline of the species (Tezanos-Pinto 2013 and Tezanos-Pinto et al. 2013) and developments in the industry following previous research findings have resulted in the need for a comprehensive review of the current management regime using updated empirical data on habitat use, site fidelity, and behavioural responses, including vessel interactions.

This report describes the results of a dedicated continuous study between December 2012 and April 2015 and provides management recommendations to ensure adequate protection of this local population of nationally endangered bottlenose dolphins. (Baker et al., 2010).


Worldwide, the marine environment and our use of it is changing. One such way is the ever-adapting cetacean focused tourism industry. This type of tourism can present a potentially sustainable use of cetaceans and an economically viable alternative to whaling (Hoyt 1995). Cetacean watching may improve public attitude towards the marine environment (Orams 1997) and promote support for conservation issues (Bejder et al., 1999; Dwyer et al., 2014), while simultaneously benefiting local economies (Berggren et al., 2008; Hoyt 2001).

However, during the last decade cetacean watching has become more interactive than the traditional passive vessel viewing (Spradlin et al., 2001). This can place cetaceans at higher risk of being harassed and/or injured by an unknown number of unpredictable effects associated with cetacean watching/swimming (Bejder et al., 2006; Frohoff & Dudzinski 2001; Parsons 2012). As long-term data on the possible effects of tourism is increasing, it is becoming apparent such activity maybe having effects not only at the behavioural level but also at the population level (Bejder et al., 1999; Lusseau 2004). 

DOC contracted this research to obtain a scientific evidence base for management decisions. Results and sound scientific analysis presented herein form the basis of management advice to the department on how to better manage the intense dolphin tourism industry and other vessel impacts on bottlenose dolphins in Bay of Islands.

To effectively decrease the level of tourism induced disturbance, improvements to the current management regime need to address the entire spectrum of tourism effects on bottlenose in the Bay of Islands, including private and non-permitted commercial tourism operators, who also target the dolphins.

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