With the long beach and entrance to the large harbour, Tauranga is home to a variety of marine predators – either resident or passing through.
The regular species include bronze whaler sharks, New Zealand fur seals, orca, dolphins and the occasional leopard seal.
There was a southern right whale in the harbour last winter, and there is a pair of fisherman who swear they saw a great white shark near the entrance once.
The first rule about marine predators is look, but don’t touch. The second is give them plenty of room.
All seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978.
It’s an offence to harass, disturb, injure or kill marine mammals.
Anyone charged with harassing, disturb, injuring or killing a marine mammal faces a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000.
The Department of Conservation rules are common sense and set spatial boundaries for boats and distances from marine mammals, mainly aimed at the dolphin watching business, but are still applicable to the public.
Do not disturb, harass or make loud noises near marine mammals.
Contact should be ceased should marine mammals show any signs of becoming disturbed or alarmed.
Do not feed or throw any rubbish near marine mammals.
Avoid sudden or repeated changes in speed or direction of any vessel or aircraft near a marine mammal.
There should be no more than three vessels and, or, aircraft within 300m of any marine mammal.
Ensure you travel no faster than idle or ‘no wake’ speed within 300m of any marine mammal.
Approach whales and dolphins from behind and to the side.
Do not circle them, obstruct their path or cut through any group.
Idle slowly away. Speed may be gradually increased to out-distance dolphins and should not exceed 10 knots within 300m of any dolphin.
Keep at least 50m from whales, or 200m from any large whale mother and calf or calves.
Give seals and sea lions space. Where practicable stay at least 20m away.
Avoid coming between fur seals and the sea. Keep dogs on a leash and well away.
Never attempt to touch seals or sea lions – they can be aggressive and often carry diseases.
Swimming with whales is not permitted. People may swim with seals and dolphins but not with dolphin pods with very young calves.
Avoid approaching closer than 20m to seals and sea lions hauled out on shore.