The Department of Conservation is strongly advising people not to swim or interact with Moko, Mahia’s bottlenose dolphin, who is likely to be more aggressive now that he has grown out of playful childhood into adolescence.
He also needs a chance to seek out companions from his own species.
The warning follows an episode last month where Moko kept a swimmer from returning to shore. The swimmer was rescued after clinging to a buoy for some time, unable to make it back on her own.
“Even playing in the shallows with the dolphin has the potential to cause serious injury, especially to children, and there are also significant risks to the dolphin,”
says DOC biodiversity programme manager John Adams.
Moko, the Mahia dolphin
Martin Williams, a keen surfer who has swum many times with Moko over the last year, developing a rapport with the dolphin, said he had recently noticed changes to Moko’s behaviour.
“The dolphin was definitely more dominant and using his body in an assertive manner.
“When he was younger he was quite playful and being smaller, he did not have such a big impact on people,” Mr Williams said.
“It seems to me that the dolphin is now reaching the equivalent of adolescence and his behaviour is starting to reflect this.”
AUT University Professor Mark Orams, who has conducted research on marine mammal tourism for over a decade, also stresses the need to respect Moko as the wild animal he is.
“Bottlenose dolphins such as Moko normally live in complex social groups where dominance hierarchies are created, tested and reinforced through a variety of behaviour, including aggressive acts. When humans become part of their social group, dolphins will not differentiate between species.”
Professor Orams believes if people really care about dolphins, they will do what is best for them.
“A dolphin’s interests are best served by it interacting with its own kind and developing the social skills needed to hunt, to breed and become a fully functional member of its group, over its 40-year life span.”
“The more Moko associates with people, the less likely it is that he will seek out its own kind. He needs to be left alone, thus encouraging him to seek out other dolphins,” Professor Orams said.