MARINE RECORDS: New Zealand tour operators Jill and Clint Tauri.
MARINE RECORDS: New Zealand tour operators Jill and Clint Tauri.

Kiwis use marine tours to enviro advantage

TOURIST operators can help collect some of the missing data about Australia's mysterious marine mammals, say Jillian and Clint Tauri.

Mr and Mrs Tauri, who own and operate Fiordland Tours in New Zealand's South Island, say while on the water at home they are kept busy recording information on marine mammals for New Zealand's Department of Conservation, as well as logging information on fish species for the recreational fishing industry.

The couple have been delightedly watching migrating humpback whales from a headland vantage point at Safety Beach during a trip to visit family on the Coffs Coast.

They have been following with interest the local debate about the lack of data on other marine mammal species.

Last week Southern Cross University Professor Peter Harrison said lack of information about most Australian marine mammal species, including dolphins, was severely limiting the ability to manage or conserve them as it meant it was impossible to assign them a conservation status.

Jill Tauri said their boats operated in Doubtful Sound in NZ and they were required to record any marine mammal they saw, describing the animal and identifying it if possible as well as the latitude and longitude where it was sighted and how long it stayed near the boat.

"We have been collecting the information for many years and we get information back from the Department," she said.

"They hold meetings and discuss what they have found with the stakeholders.

She said although compliance with the voluntary code meant that departmental researchers could travel on the tour boats incognito as "mystery shoppers" - at the operators' cost - it was in the operators' best interest to preserve the environment and the animals.

"You want to be seen to be co-operating with the department; it gathers valuable information and we want to look after the animals," Mrs Tauri said.

The program was introduced after researchers became concerned about abortions among dolphins, fearing they were related to the crowding of animals by tourists keen to get a closer look.

Today boats are not allowed to deviate from their route to pursue dolphins or other animals in Doubtful Sound, but are not required to leave if the animals approach the boat.

Prof Harrison said as far as he was aware, there was no formal process for gathering information from tourist boats on the North Coast, but most operators were really helpful.

"We get really worthwhile information and we are very thankful for their help, but it requires continual re-engagement." Prof Harrison said the larger scope of the marine mammal populations on the East Coast of Australia would create difficulties for a NZ-style recording scheme, as well as changes in jurisdiction between licensing in state and federal waters.

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