Help us save New Zealand’s rarest dolphins from extinction
- There are only 55 Maui’s dolphins* left in the world. They were once found around the North Island, but are now only found on the west coast of the North Island.
- The population of Hector’s dolphins has declined by 75% over the last 40 years
- Both sub-species are slow breeders.
- Gill nets are the single biggest threat to both Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.
- We urgently need your help to stop New Zealand’s rarest dolphins becoming extinct.
Here are some things that you can do to help save our Maui's dolphins
- Send a submission to Prime Minister, John Key, Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith and Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy by November 12th.
- Send an e-card to the Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith and the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy.
- Click here to see Forest & Bird’s submission to the Ministry of Primary Industries on the proposed interim protection measures for Maui’s dolphin.
- Download Ministry of Primary Industries's Discussion Paper about Maui's Death (PDF, 721kb),
and click here for DOC's Maui's Dolphin Consultation paper (PDF, 161kb)
New Zealand is home to the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphins – the Hector’s dolphin. Hector’s dolphins in the North Island have separated from those in the South Island to become genetically distinct over time. Dolphins found off the North Island coast are recognised as a sub-species, the Maui’s dolphin.
In the 1970s there were between 21,000 and 29,000 Hector’s dolphins found around most of our coastline. Today, fewer than 7000 are scattered around our coastal waters.
Both Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are listed on the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of threatened species.
Maui’s dolphins have the highest threat classification status in New Zealand and are listed as critically endangered. Hector’s dolphins are listed as endangered.
Hector’s and Maui’s preferred habitat of waters less the 100 meters deep makes them particularly vulnerable to human activities such as fishing. Gill netting is one of the biggest threats to their survival.
Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are among the smallest dolphins in the world – so small you could fit them in a bathtub. They are the only dolphin species with a rounded dorsal fin, and are also set apart from other dolphins by their behaviour and limited distribution.
Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are only found in shallow water less than 100 meters deep. These dolphins are protected along the West coast of the North Island and East coast of the South Island, but in order to safeguard and grow these small populations these areas need to be expanded.
Click here to see a map of their distribution.
Commercial fishing groups have legally challenged a previous ban on gill nets, which allowed them greater fishing rights within the Hector dolphin’s habitat. Since 2008, the protection measures placed around Hector’s dolphins has been severely compromised by these legal challenges.
What has been done:
In May 2008, the Government announced new measures to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins which recognised the impact of gill netting and addressed a number of other threats.
The Government also extended the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary and established four new marine sanctuaries.
The new measures were a very significant step forward. But Forest & Bird believes these actions are not significant enough to stop the population decline of Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins.
The current ban on gill nets stretches from Maunganui Bluffs, near Dargaville, to Pariokariwa Point, north of New Plymouth, and out to 7 nautical miles offshore.
There is currently a ban on gill nets along the east coast of the South Island from the Marlborough Sounds to the Catlins, and out to 4 nautical miles offshore.
There is also a smaller set net ban along part of the west coast of the South Island between Farewell Spit to Awarua Point, north of Fiordland. This restricts recreational set netting out to 2 nautical miles and prohibits commercial set netting between 1 December and 28 February.
The two most significant loopholes are:
1. Protection does not extend far enough south around Taranaki
2. Harbours are not included
A 2005 Ministry of Fisheries report shows Maui’s dolphin are found much further south than the protected area.
In 2009, a fisherman well south of the protected area filmed a Maui’s dolphin on his cellphone.
The three most significant loopholes are:
1. Protection along the east coast of the South Island does not extend far enough offshore to protect important breeding and feeding habitats
2. Golden Bay and Tasman Bay at the top of the South Island are unprotected
3. The Cook Strait, linking the South Island and the North Island populations, is not protected.
What is being done?
Latest protection measures:
In March 2012, the Department of Conservation released the latest population estimate. It found there are only 55 Maui’s dolphins left in New Zealand waters. The Government immediately announced further protection was needed.
What is being proposed by the Government:
1. Interim measure: extend the set net ban along the west coast of the North Island to include the Taranaki coast from Pariokariwa Point south to Hawera and out to 4 nautical miles.
2. Interim measure: extend the marine mammal sanctuary along the west coast, south to Hawera and out to 12 nautical miles, with restrictions on seismic surveys throughout the sanctuary
3. Permanent measure: bring forward the planned review of the Hector’s and Maui’s Threat Management Plan from 2013 to 2012, prioritising the Maui’s component.
* 2012 DOC estimate