Observing rules around sea mammals
There’s nothing like meeting one of our many marine mammal species face-to-face and boaties get the best view of all.
Marlborough is renowned for its species diversity and the Sounds is a dolphin mecca with common, bottlenose, dusky and Hector’s dolphin, and the majestic orca (yes orca are dolphins).
On occasion we have longfinned pilot whales (also a dolphin), humpback and southern right whales visiting, and blue and minke whales cruising through Cook Strait.
Kaikoura is home to more with sperm, humpback and southern right whales as well as orca, longfinned pilot whales and thousands of dusky dolphins. And, love them or hate them, we have seals – mainly fur seals and the occasional leopard seal.
Some of these species are extremely rare – there are less than 1000 coastal bottlenose dolphins around New Zealand – less than Hector’s with a total population of more than 9000.
There are also less than 200 orca in New Zealand.
Some species are, of course, more common.
There are 100,000 fur seals but this is still considerably less than pre-sealing days when there were more than two million.
Regardless of how rare or common a species may be, all marine mammals are under threat. Entanglement in fishing and marine farming equipment, swallowing marine debris and pollution, disease, seismic surveying and impacts on food supply all have the potential to affect individuals and reduce numbers.
One of the best ways to protect a species is to encourage people to enjoy and treasure them. But by undertaking this very activity we could be harming them.
Boats can cause significant disturbance to marine mammals. While you may encounter a dolphin for only five minutes, once you leave the same dolphin is visited by boat after boatin the peak season. This means the dolphin (or whale or seal) does not get to do what they are supposed to do – feed, socialise and rest.
Boat noise is a significant disturbance and death or injury from propeller strike a very real threat.
It’s not all bad as this inadvertent disturbance can be reduced.
All human interaction with marine mammals is regulated by the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations, and while this sounds daunting, it comes down to a few common sense rules.
When you spot a dolphin, whale or seal from your boat slow down. Often in our excitement when seeing one of these treasures we get ‘‘buck fever’’ – all sense deserts us.
Boats must travel at a ‘‘no-wake speed’’ when within 300m of any marine mammal.
Wait your turn – there must be no more than three boats within 300m of a marine mammal. Approach from the rear or parallel to the pod or individual. Do not cut off, circle or drive through any pod of dolphins or whales.
When leaving, move to the side, keep boat direction and speed predictable, and slowly increase speed to out-distance them. And this is the tricky bit – while biologically dolphins, orca (and pilot whales) are considered as whales in the Regulations. You must keep 50m away from all whales.
To know more the Department of Conservation is holding evening presentations this summer at the Kaikoura Memorial Hall on the January 8. All presentations 7pm till 8.30pm, supper provided.
For more details email skippers firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good behaviour: Boats can cause significant disturbance to marine mammals.