Aug. 30 (UPI) -- New Zealand wildlife officials have banned tourists from swimming with bottlenose dolphins, saying the practice has made a significant impact on the animals' resting and feeding behavior.
The Department of Conservation said tourists were "loving the dolphins too much," and the impact has disrupted the dolphins' natural routines.
The ban applies to tour operators in the Bay of Islands region, where numbers of bottlenose dolphins have declined by 66 percent since 1990. The animals, however is not endangered and live in all aquatic areas of the world except the Arctic and Antarctic.
"The Bay of Islands bottlenose dolphin population can only be protected if everyone plays their part," the Department of Conservation said in a statement.
Wildlife officials said the interactions have been a contributing factor in a growing mortality rate among calves of a core group of 19 bottlenose dolphins that swim the region on a regular basis. The rate, they said, is now at 75 percent.
Tour operators can still interact with the dolphins, but only for 20 minutes at a time in the mornings and afternoons. The change ensures the aquatic mammals are left alone in the evening and at night. Previously, tourists were able to interact with dolphins for 30 minutes.
The companies that rely on tourists fear the new restrictions will hurt business. There's also concern the change will reduce tourist boats but increase private vessels that interact with the dolphins.