Thrill-seeking holiday-makers are putting dolphins at risk

March 16, 2010

Tourists wanting to watch and swim with dolphins are now being urged to keep their distance in a bid to protect both the animals and the local communities whose livelihoods depend on them.

A study of bottlenose dolphins living off the coast of Zanzibar has found that the many tourist boats operating in the area are harassing the animals, preventing them from resting, feeding and nurturing their young.

The research, led by Dr Per Berggren of Newcastle University, also highlights swimming with dolphins - in particular where tourists swim in very close and try to touch the dolphins- as being incredibly stressful for the animals.

Printed today in the academic journal Endangered Species Research, the authors say regulation of the dolphin tourism industry is "urgently needed" to minimize the potential long-term negative impact on the animals.

Dr Berggren, who joined Newcastle from Stockholm University earlier this month, explained: "The current situation in Zanzibar is unsustainable. The local community is dependent on tourism - and therefore the dolphins - but unless the activity is regulated the animals will leave.

"Our study found that whenever the tourist boats were present the dolphins were very unsettled and spent less time feeding, socialising or resting. This has a negative impact, not only on individual animals, but on the population as a whole and long term it could be devastating.

"The problem is that any change needs to be tourist-driven. Many visitors will pay drivers extra in tips to steer their boats in close, herding the dolphins so they can dive right in amongst them. Our message is, keep your distance and put the dolphins first."

Dolphin-watching was introduced off the South coast of Zanzibar in 1992. Today it is one of the few places in the world where tourism has completely replaced the traditional dolphin hunt - an activity which threatened the local population of around 150 bottlenose dolphins.

"Abolishing the hunts was a major breakthrough and dolphin watching offered a humane, sustainable alternative," says Dr Berggren.

"Unfortunately, without regulation, dolphin tourism brings with it its own challenges."

Watching the dolphins over a period of 40 days, the research team found that in the presence of the tourist boats, the time the dolphins spent resting dropped from 38 per cent of the time to 10 per cent while the time they spent foraging and socialising dropped from 19 and 10 per cent to just 10 and 4 per cent, respectively.

Meanwhile, travelling behaviour more than doubled in proportion, from 33 to 77 per cent, becoming by far the most dominant activity state during interactions with tourist boats.

"Overall, the dolphins are using more energy than they are taking in because they aren't resting or feeding as much but are swimming more as they try to avoid the tourist boats," explains Dr Berggren, based in the School of Marine Science and Technology at Newcastle University.

"Zanzibar is a wonderful place, the dolphins are incredibly interesting and between July and October there are also breeding humpbacks in the area. I would recommend that anyone go there for a holiday and support the local community but act responsibly and ask operators to follow existing guidelines."
-end-


Newcastle University

Related Dolphins Articles from Brightsurf:

Study finds high levels of toxic pollutants in stranded dolphins and whales
Researchers examined toxins in tissue concentrations and pathology data from 83 stranded dolphins and whales from 2012 to 2018.

Tracking humanity's latest toxins in stranded whales and dolphins
As humanity develops new types of plastics and chemicals, researchers are constantly trying to keep up with understanding how these contaminants affect the environment and wildlife.

Young dolphins pick their friends wisely
Strategic networking is key to career success, and not just for humans.

Dolphins learn foraging skills from peers
Dolphins can learn new skills from their fellow dolphins. That's the conclusion of a new study reported in the journal Current Biology on June 25.

Dolphins learn in similar ways to great apes
Dolphins learn new foraging techniques not just from their mothers, but also from their peers, a study by the University of Zurich has found.

Shelling out for dinner -- Dolphins learn foraging skills from peers
Dolphins use empty gastropod shells to trap prey. A new study demonstrates for the first time that dolphins can learn this foraging technique outside the mother-calf bond - showing that they have a similar cultural nature to great apes.

Good night? Satellite data uncovers dolphins on the move at nighttime
More than 1,000 bottlenose dolphins live in Florida's Indian River Lagoon year-round.

Cooperative male dolphins match the tempo of each other's calls
When it comes to working together, male dolphins coordinate their behavior just like us.

Dolphins gather in female family groups
Social clusters including mothers' groups play an important role in the life of southern Australian bottlenose dolphins, a new study shows.

Lights on fishing nets save turtles and dolphins
Placing lights on fishing nets reduces the chances of sea turtles and dolphins being caught by accident, new research shows.

Read More: Dolphins News and Dolphins Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.