Imagine cruising on a peaceful bay; the skies are clear and blue, your boat soundlessly gliding through the water. You look over the side into the water and see friendly heads popping out. You count four dolphins who seem to be playing a game as they leap up in turns. This fantastic treat right here is what brings people to Fiordland.
In fact, bottlenose dolphins from the far south of New Zealand are a common attraction in Doubtful Sound and are among the largest of their kinds. They tend to grow to about 3.5m to 4m compared to their siblings from the tropical climates of Australia who only grow up to 2.5m.
Adult females give birth to one baby dolphin every two to four years. In Fiordland, these births are seasonal, typically during summer and spring only.
Dolphins seldom show a long-lasting and robust bond among their pack, but Fiordland dolphins are one tight community. This bond may be because of their habitat. Bottlenose dolphins only go as far south as Fiordland, and their solidarity is thought to be because they have to cooperate to survive.
The decline in Fiordland Dolphin numbers
A study in 1994 showed that there were 70 dolphins in the whole of Fiordland. However, due to the low survival rate of calves, this number went down to 56 in 2006. This is considered a significant decline within these 12 years and suggests that there are threats to the existence of dolphins in Fiordland. Though they cannot be considered endangered or close to extinction because these dolphins live in large numbers in other parts of the world, it is important for New Zealand to take measures to protect the numbers we currently have.
For this reason the Marine Mammal Protection Regulations of 1992, the Doubtful Sound tourism operators, the Department of Conservation, and other stakeholders continue to create and implement new protection measures.
What you should know
While in Fiordland it is wonderful to experience our friendly wildlife, but it is also important to respect their boundaries. If you’re swimming and see dolphins, it is advisable not to go directly to them. Instead, wait for them to notice you and swim towards you.
There are dolphin protection zones in the area, and if dolphins are present, please do not enter these areas. It is important that these social creatures have their own safe space in the sounds.
If you are stationary and inside a dolphin protection zone when dolphins approach you, do not move away until they have passed.
Leave dolphin encounters to chance. If you happen to be lucky enough to experience this, do not radio other people to tell them where the dolphins are.
Keep your speed within 5 knots or idle if you are passing in a boat, as per the requirement of Maritime Bylaws of 2003.
Dolphin Protection Zones
While inside a Dolphin Protection Zone, you must remember the following:
- There are restricted zones that vessels cannot go to.
- If you see no dolphins, you can enter the zones directly. Otherwise, you have to follow the proper approach to the dolphins.
- Do not attempt sudden movement or repeated change of direction while dolphins are near you.
- When there are calves, you have to be extra careful, proper distance (farther away than usual) is required.
- Do not circle a group of dolphins. Do not cut through them also.
With everybody’s help, the dolphins in Doubtful Sound can be preserved and protected so that visitors can continue to enjoy their presence for many years to come.