Bottlenose dolphin and calf


Keep marine mammals in the Bay of Islands safe by following the boating rules and regulations. All marine mammals are fully protected.

If you notice a marine mammal being harassed, severely injured or entangled, or in the event of any other conservation emergencies, phone 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

If you see dolphins or whales while in the Bay of Islands, you can help keep them safe by following the rules and regulations.

New Zealand has a large diversity of whales, dolphins and porpoises. We are known as the ‘marine mammal capital of the world’. There are 42 species (of 84 worldwide) recorded in New Zealand – 33 species of whales and dolphins have been recorded in Northland alone.

Growing public interest and increased seabased tourism present new threats to our marine mammals. These include boat strike, noise pollution, harassment and the separation of mothers and their calves.

Follow regulations to protect marine mammals

Harassment of marine mammals is against the law and offences can result in prosecution.

Follow Marine Mammals Protection Regulations:

  • A maximum of 3 vessels (including jet skis and kayaks) is allowed within 300 m of a group of dolphins.
  • Keep your speed to a minimum—no wake allowed within 300 m.
  • Approach dolphins slowly, from behind and to the side of the group.
  • Never drive through, cut off or circle a group of dolphins.
  • Don’t make sudden or repeated changes in direction or speed.
  • Don’t attempt to swim with groups with calves or juveniles (animals less than two-thirds the length of the adults).
  • Keep noise to a minimum.
  • No boats allowed within 50 m of whales or 200 m of female whales with calves.

Refer to Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 for a complete list of conditions prescribing behaviour around marine mammals.

Respect the local guidelines

You must also:

  • Scan ahead for dolphin dorsal fins – do not drive through a dolphin pod.
  • Slow down gradually and give the pod a wide berth If you are simply travelling through an area with dolphins.
  • Give mothers 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.
  • Make the most of your encounter by switching off your motor and giving the animals plenty of space – this lets the dolphins carry on with important activities like nursing and catching fish.
  • Give all dolphins and whales a ‘lunch break’ between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm – do not approach them during this time.

Let dolphins rest

Designated rest areas for dolphins in the Bay of Islands are:

  • Waikare Inlet
  • Kerikeri Inlet
  • Te Puna Inlet
  • Deep Water Cove
  • area northeast of Waewaetorea Island.

Stay away from dolphins in these areas.

Our bottlenose dolphins are vulnerable

In summer in the Bay of Islands, it is common for boats to drive through the middle of a dolphin pod at high speed – because either they haven’t seen the dolphins or they think they will get out of the way.

But dolphins (and orca) can get hit by propellers, and some have died from their injuries. In the bay over summer many people want to get close to the dolphins, but getting too close can harm them.

Scientific studies show a 7.5% decrease in the Bay of Islands’ bottlenose dolphin population each year. Nearly half of all calves in the bay die in their first year – we don’t know why.

What we do know is that the bay is a busy place in summer. This is also the time when most dolphins give birth. If mothers and calves are disturbed all day they cannot do the things they need to take care of themselves. For example, calves may not suckle enough in order to grow and thrive.

Some marine mammals you may encounter in the Bay of Islands


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