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Department of Conservation staff are concerned over the recent trend in peoples interactions with Whakatane’s resident marine mammal, Moko the bottlenose dolphin.
“There has been an increase in the number of people which are seen to be ‘scratching’ Moko with various human made devices. These include all sorts of brushes including car and boat deck brushes” said Mike Jones, Community Relations Ranger.
“When we talk to these people they say that in their opinion Moko is enjoying it. This might be the case, but everyone needs to realise that in our expert opinion, this is very inappropriate.
“Dolphins have a very thin layer of outer skin (a few millimetres thick) which is important in maintaining their hydrodynamic abilities and to stop the attachment of other organisms.
“Scrubbing Moko with any sort of brush, however soft you think it is or clean it is, is likely to damage this protective epidermal layer which will leave him vulnerable to infection. Recently in the United Kingdom, two bottlenose dolphins died of bacterial infections from human sewerage that gained access to the dolphins via skin scratches caused by people interacting with them.
“Although dolphins have good immune systems, Moko is at increased risk due to his continual interaction with humans and the environments he swims in.
“I would very much encourage everyone to take a hands off approach when choosing to interact with Moko – you will in fact be helping to look after him.
Mr Jones finished by saying “I urge anyone who has concerns regarding Moko’s welfare to get directly in touch with DOC. If it is urgent please use our hotline 0800 DOC HOT (362 468).
Moko is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Regulations and those people found to be guilty of breaking these regulations can be fined up to $10,000.
For further information on how to look after yourself and Moko, visit www.doc.govt.nz/moko.
To learn more about other ways you can be involved in protecting marine mammals, check out http://www.projectjonah.org.nz/ .