Humans ruining dolphin sex lives
AS IF dolphins don't have enough to worry about with ocean predators and plastic pollution, researchers have revealed that humans are ruining their sex lives.
A study by Murdoch University found that dolphins who spend too much time around tourists have trouble mating and resting, which could expose them to serious harm.
The research examined the impact of human interaction with Hawaiian spinner dolphins, which are sought out on a daily basis by tourists looking for close-up encounters.
"Throughout the day, spinner dolphins are repeatedly approached by kayakers, swimmers and vessels inside and outside their preferred resting habitats," the study observed.
Being a hugely popular tourist attraction, the researchers found that dolphins spend around 82 per cent of their time around humans.
The problem is, popular times to visit are when the animals would normally be enjoying downtime - and it's causing their behaviours to change.
"Spinner dolphins in Hawaii exist in small, genetically isolated populations with restricted ranges and have evolved a constrained behavioural pattern," study lead Julian Tyne explained.
"They cooperatively forage offshore at night and return to sheltered bays to socialise and rest during the day."
These behaviours allow the animals to maximise their foraging efficiency while avoiding predators during times when they rest and recover.
But high levels of human activity impact these habits, as well as mating opportunities, which could lead to catastrophic consequences for dolphin pods.
Dolphins seeking a human-free rest might avoid their preferred habitats, which could also negatively affect their eating and mating habits, according to the researchers.
"Dolphins need time to recover from a disturbance to return to a pre-disturbed activity state," the study said.
"Repeated exposure to human activities has also resulted in long-term habitat abandonment, which has led to longer-term strategies such as the avoidance of important habitats and subsequently biologically negative impacts on populations."
Dr Tyne said similar effects of human interaction have been observed within dolphin populations in Doubt Sound in New Zealand and Shark Bay in Western Australia.
"The effect of repeated exposure to human activities on wildlife populations is a growing concern for conservation management," Dr Tyne said.
Dolphin Research Australia said a number of human threats put the popular animals at risk, requiring a continued focus on conservation and protection.
Fishing activity, pollution, boat strikes and habitat loss are among the biggest risks faced by dolphins.
Authorities are increasingly focusing on ways to limit tourist activities that can negatively impact on dolphins, or to make tourism more sustainable.