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 bottlen
|Contact: Dr. Per Berggren|