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Art imitates life as rare dolphins go missing

Press Release

Art imitates life as rare dolphins go missing from WWF installation

With just 111 left, critically endangered Maui’s dolphins are rapidly disappearing in the wild.

And now it seems even manmade Maui’s dolphins are threatened with extinction. Six life-size Maui’s have been stolen from WWF’s ‘Stop Their Extinction’ campaign installation in Auckland, nearly wiping them out altogether. Just two dolphins were left.

The installation was set to raise awareness of the need to protect the last 111 Maui’s dolphins from extinction.

With dolphins ‘caught’ on the fence, it symbolised the 110-150 Maui’s dolphins, and their South Island relative Hector’s dolphins, killed in commercial set nets each year, placing the survival of the species at risk.

The irony of even these dolphins disappearing is not lost on the global conservation organisation.

“The installation gave people a clear picture of the reality that fishing nets kill dolphins,” explained WWF’s Executive Director Chris Howe. “As the dolphins deaths are happening out at sea, it can be a case of out of sight, out of mind. By recreating the scene in places you wouldn’t expect to see dolphins, we wanted to bring the issue to people’s attention. We were asking people to then go to our ‘Stop Their Extinction’ campaign website and leave personal messages for the Government, asking them to get off the fence and protect our dolphins.”

The dolphin installation went up on Great North Road, Grey Lynn on Monday. It was set to be moved around the city over the course of the next two weeks. But the dolphins were reported missing on Tuesday night.

WWF is now appealing to Aucklanders to help them find the dolphins: “We are asking all Aucklanders to help us – if you see a life-size 2D Maui’s dolphin, please let us know. We remain hopeful that someone will find them and tell us where they are,” said Chris. "A lot of effort went into making the installation, as we're a charity it's a real shame someone has stolen them, and hindered our work to get the message of conservation out at this critical time."

WWF is asking anyone who sees the life-size 2D Maui’s dolphins to call WWF HQ on 04 471 4288. The dolphins are black, grey and white, and they have a rounded dorsal fin on the back like a ‘micky mouse’ ear. Their other main stand out feature is, they're dolphins.

WWF also gathers information on sightings of real Maui’s dolphins, so if don't spot a manmade Maui's but instead are lucky enough to see a real Maui's dolphin at sea, call WWF’s Maui’s sightings number 0800 4MAUIS to report where you saw it. WWF and DoC use this information to track Maui’s distribution which aids conservation work.

“Clearly the theft of our manmade Maui’s is not nearly as significant as the real Maui’s dolphins, but it is ironic that fate of our installation Maui’s dolphins and the real, living, breathing Maui’s are linked. If you spot our manmade Maui’s please get in touch with us, so we can continue our job of trying to save the dolphins of this country from extinction.”

WWF is asking for people who are concerned about the fate of the real Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins to go to and leave your message for the Prime Minister asking her to protect New Zealand’s dolphins from set net and trawl net fishing.


Dolphin Notes:
1. Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are New Zealand’s sole endemic dolphin species - that means they are not found anywhere else on planet Earth. New Zealand has only one other endemic marine mammal - the New Zealand sea lion (formerly known as Hooker’s).
2. Maui’s are the most rare marine dolphin in the world with an estimated population of just 111 individuals. Maui’s are a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin, and live only along the west coast of the North Island.
3. The reason the dolphins are at risk is because they live close to shore, which places them at great risk from fishing – specifically, drowning after becoming entangled in commercial and amateur set nets and inshore trawl nets. Boat strikes, coastal development and pollution are also factors.
4. Because both species only live about 20 years and are low, slow breeders, any human-induced deaths have a huge impact. Even one more death of a Maui’s dolphin, caused by humans, could push them over the brink to extinction as the population will simply not be able to sustain itself.
5. Some fishing restrictions have been put in place, such as banning set nets from certain areas. However, dolphins are still dying, which shows these steps are not enough.
6. The dolphins’ fragile status was first recognised nearly 10 years ago, in 1999. It has taken this long for the Government to finally issue a draft Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan (August 2007). This draft has still not been finalised.
7. Set nets and trawl nets are unequivocally acknowledged by New Zealand’s Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Conservation as the most significant threat to both Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.
8. The deaths of 22 common dolphins in two vessels’ trawl nets last December shows that the fishing industry’s voluntary Marine Mammal Operating Procedure cannot provide adequate protection for Maui’s. The Minister of Conservation confirmed it not uncommon for dolphins to be captured in nets in this way.
9. The Government has the power and mandate to stop the extinction from happening. The Fisheries Act 1996 (s9 and s10) allows the Government to act with caution to ensure sustainability.
10. 83% of New Zealanders support a ban on set and trawl fishing to protect Hector's and Maui's dolphins. Find out more at

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