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


A female bottlenose dolphin is currently carrying a dead calf in the Bay of Islands and DOC staff are asking for boats on the water to give them space.

Date:  01 February 2019

The calf, suspected to be stillborn, was first sighted on 29 January. The female is displaying strong maternal bond behaviour as is typical with marine mammals, including carrying the calf on her back and vocalising on the calf.

“The mother is grieving and needs space and time to do this. The Bay of Islands is a busy place in summer with a lot of activity in and around the water. This female needs everyone on the water to give her the extra space and respect she needs whilst she copes with her loss.

“If in doubt avoid all dolphin groups in the Bay of Islands,” says Dr Catherine Peters, Senior Ranger Biodiversity, DOC.

The rest of the dolphin group has at times separated from the female leaving her vulnerable. She has dropped the calf frequently as she tried to swim, and then circles back to retrieve it.

DOC has been on the water during summer as part of a public awareness campaign centred on the Bay of Islands bottlenose dolphin.

Summer is the time when most dolphins give birth. If dolphin mothers are subject to ongoing disturbance they are prevented from doing what is necessary to care for themselves and their calves.

How to approach dolphins

From a boat:

  • keep a watch for dolphins – especially around Tapeka point
  • carefully approach dolphins from their side and slightly to the rear
  • operate your boat slowly and quietly at ‘no wake’ speed within 300 m
  • don't approach a group of dolphins if three or more boats are already within 300 m of the group
  • manoeuvre your boat carefully - do not obstruct their path, cut through a group, or separate mothers from calves
  • if you would like to observe bottlenose dolphins switch off your motor and give the animals plenty of space – this lets the dolphins carry on with important activities like nursing and catching fish. If they are not interested leave them alone
  • give dolphin mums and calves extra space
  • if you spot a dolphin less than half the size of an adult, keep your vessel 100 m away from the mother and calf
  • give bottlenose dolphins a break from all boats between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm – do not approach them during this time.


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