Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


A ten-year moratorium on new permits to view or swim with marine mammals in Akaroa Harbour starts today, 16 September 2016.

Date:  16 September 2016

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is putting in place a ten-year moratorium on new permits to view or swim with marine mammals in Akaroa Harbour.

The moratorium comes into effect today (Friday 16 September 2016) and means there will be no increase in commercial operations to view dolphins, whales or seals, or swim with dolphins or seals. A previous moratorium was in place between 2008-2012.

Hector's dolphins.
Hector's dolphins
Photo © Dina Engel and Andreas Maecker

DOC’s Christchurch-based Operations Manager Jeremy Severinsen says the moratorium is designed to protect Hector’s dolphins in particular, and is backed by recent scientific research.

“Hector’s dolphins are slow to reproduce and those in Akaroa are subject to some of the highest levels of human interaction in New Zealand. We need to manage their welfare with and on behalf of the Akaroa community.”

The moratorium has support from Ōnuku Rūnanga, the Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Board and tourism operators who see the benefit in protecting the dolphins from over-exposure to human interaction.

“As well as benefitting the harbour’s wildlife, the moratorium supports the ongoing sustainability of Akaroa’s nature-based tourism ventures—a vital part of the area’s economy,” says Jeremy Severinsen.

In 2005 DOC funded research into the responses of Hector’s dolphins to tourism activity. Results from the four-year study showed that interactions with vessels were affecting the behaviour of the dolphins.

“The moratorium will not only halt any increase in commercial interactions with these tiny dolphins, but will free up time and resources for further monitoring and research into the long-term impacts of these changes in behaviour,” says Jeremy Severinsen.

“We will also be focussing on the effects of non-commercial interactions. Dolphin calves are particularly at risk from vessels not complying with New Zealand’s Marine Mammal Protection Regulations 1992. We need to do all we can to ensure people can enjoy these lovable locals without harming their health.”

Additional information

  • Six operators are currently permitted to view and/or swim with Hector's dolphins in the harbour.
  • These permits are subject to strict criteria including a regulation that the operation 'will not have or be likely to have any adverse effect on the conservation, management or protection of marine mammals'.
  • Population counts co-ordinated by professors Steve Dawson and Liz Slooten at Otago University between 1986 – 2010 do not indicate a long-term trend for an increase or decrease in the overall number of dolphins using Akaroa Harbour.


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