'Zoo mentality' of some cruise-goers a concern

Cruise ship passengers have been blundering into sensitive environments as they seek out Dunedin’s wildlife jewels, the Department of Conservation (Doc) has warned.

At yesterday’s cruise ship season debriefing, Doc summer ranger Becky Cameron said although it enjoyed working with tour operators to promote the region’s wildlife, there had been issues with some cruise ship passengers.

Most cruise ship operators were very good at steering their passengers to the guided tour operators, but they still heard of examples of passengers going on their own, she said.

"Doc has a strong compliance team, but remains concerned about the disturbance of the natural habitat of hoiho and sea lions, who are particularly vulnerable."

Ms Cameron said the best approach to help limit wildlife disturbance from tourists who wanted to witness Dunedin’s wildlife was to ensure they took guided tours.

"This is important for harm minimisation."

Penguins were "very shy", and could get "quite stressed", so needed to be treated carefully by touring groups, she said.

"Most of the tour operators have been great; they’ve got all their permits in place and have been giving people really great information and experience.

Nationally vulnerable New Zealand sea lion pups play in the waters of an Otago Peninsula coastal...
Nationally vulnerable New Zealand sea lion pups play in the waters of an Otago Peninsula coastal inlet. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
"But we have been seeing more people guiding on public conservation land or viewing the animals without a permit."

Permit fees helped to ensure Doc could maintain protection for native wildlife, she said.

Doc also did "mystery shopping" of tours, to ensure that they were giving out the right messages and operating properly, she said.

Otago Peninsula Trust eco-tourism manager Hoani Langsbury said when contacted that he saw tourists in general constantly venturing near wildlife where they should not.

"It doesn’t surprise me that Doc has put out this message.

"A high percentage of tourists are not repeat visitors, so they need to hear this message. My advice is always to direct tourists who want to see the wildlife to accredited operators ."

He was concerned about a "zoo mentality" among some tourists.

"Sea lions are living in their natural habitat, so people need to keep their distance, or not approach them at all.

"Part of being the wildlife capital of Aotearoa is that we need to ensure and advocate for the protection of the wildlife. It must come first."

In general, Dunedin was very good at promoting the environment, but "we could always be doing more", he said.

Dunedin iSite manager Louise van de Vlierd said visitors were not always educated about how to react around wildlife.

"It’s quite unique to be able to come see wildlife in their true natural surroundings, and people can just get a little bit exuberant.

"They don’t realise the harm they’re causing by getting close to penguins, for example. And sea lions can run faster than we can.

"It’s really an education thing."

Other issues raised at the cruise ship debriefing included ways to address cruise ship emissions, space for the available tour buses, and upcoming trends in cruise ship numbers.

It had been the busiest cruise season yet, Port Otago sustainability and cruise manager Carolyn Bennett told the Otago Daily Times.

This included 117 cruise visits, generating 192,736 passengers.

There were also 41 tour operators who benefited from the cruise season.

"Overall, it’s been brilliant.

"We’re recognised as one of the best ports in New Zealand for cruise ship visits, and we want to keep continuing that."