Help us save Maui and Hector’s dolphins!

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Maui dolphin is on the brink of extinction

New Zealand dolphin (Hector’s and Maui dolphin) is Endangered. Maui dolphin (the North Island subspecies) is Critically Endangered. They are literally teetering on the edge of extinction, with a population of around 60 individuals remaining. Extending protection to all waters up to 100 m deep is most urgently needed for North Island waters.

Why 100m?

Protection for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins is still unsustainable, and needs to be extended to all waters up to 100m deep, the red area in the map on the right.

Protected areas are shown in green. In the dark green areas, dolphins are protected from both gillnets and trawl nets. In the light green areas, gillnets are banned, but trawling continues to kill dolphins. The range of Maui and Hector’s dolphins is shown in red (New Zealand waters to 100m deep, except for northeastern part of North Island). As you can see, in most parts of their range the dolphins range much further offshore than the protected areas. As a result, they are still being caught in fishing gear (in particular gill nets and trawl nets). In most areas there is no indication that the number of dolphins caught each year has declined. Off the east coast of the South Island, the number of dolphins killed each year has roughly halved, to about 23 dolphins per year. However, a sustainable level of bycatch in this area is fewer than 4 per year.

Data on offshore distribution

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A map of Banks Peninsula shows why. The map on the left, shows sightings from three summers (red dots) and three winters (blue dots) of surveys.

The protected area is indicated in grey. It is immediately obvious that the dolphins range well outside the protected area.

Effectiveness of current protection

Protection off the North Island west coast, and around the South Island, was a major step in the right direction. For example, around Banks Peninsula the Hector’s dolphin population was declining at around 6% per year before protection was put in place. Our latest research indicates that it is now declining at about 1% per year. That’s a major improvement and shows that reducing the use of gill nets and trawl nets in the area has been a huge help. But it isn’t yet enough maintain the population long-term, let alone allow it to recover from the last 30 years of major decline.

What’s the problem?

Current protected areas extend to 7 nautical miles offshore off the North Island west coast and to 2 or 4 nautical miles in different parts of the South Island. The problem is, the distribution of the dolphins extends to at least 20 nautical miles offshore. In fact, the dolphins’ distribution depends much more on water depth than distance from shore. If we extend dolphin protection to 100m water depth throughout their range that would make a huge difference. Essentially all of their foraging range would be protected. This is exactly what national and international scientists have recommended (including the IUCN and the International Whaling Commission).

Another problem is loopholes in the current regulations. For example, in Akaroa Harbour recreational fishers are allowed to use gillnets from 1 April to 1 November each year. This risks ongoing deaths of New Zealand dolphins. During the Easter Break a couple of year ago, a dolphin was killed in a ‘recreational’ gillnet in Akaroa Harbour. We will encourage the new government to close this loophole and improve protection for these dolphins. After all, they are Endangered and only found in New Zealand. They are as kiwi as the kiwi!

What can you do?

1. If you go fishing, do not use nets. Only use fish traps, hook and line, a fishing rod or other dolphin-safe fishing methods.

2. When you see dolphins, slow down, enjoy spending time with them. Avoid sudden changes in speed or direction.

3. Talk to your friends, relatives and your local Member of Parliament about saving NZ dolphins.

Please support the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust. Send us a message of support, make a donation, respond to one of the posts on our Facebook page.

Watch this space! From time to time we will ask our supporters to write to a Minister or otherwise take action to help save New Zealand’s endangered dolphins.