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New Hector's Dolphin Numbers

16 January 2002

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee is delighted with the results of a survey showing there are more Hector’s dolphins than previously thought.

“While this is good news, it is not a reason to let up on our efforts to reduce the number of avoidable Hector’s dolphin deaths," she said. While the higher than expected numbers gives us more breathing space, this species is still critically poised.”

The survey of the South Island’s West Coast in early 2001 provided an estimate of 5400 Hector’s dolphins, compared to an estimate of about 1300 dolphins from a 1984/1985 survey, giving a total population estimate for the species of about 7400.

Hector’s dolphin is also found elsewhere in the South Island, and a very small, separate and distinct population of around 100 animals is found on the west coast of the North Island.

“These results do not indicate that the population has increased since the survey in the 1980s. The different result is generated by the more thorough, state of the art survey techniques now in existence.” Ms Lee said.

“We know that Hector’s dolphin is a very slow breeder, and that there have been numerous instances of dolphins drowning in gill nets on the West Coast of the South Island in recent years, so it is possible that the West Coast population has actually declined since 1986. Other established causes of dolphin deaths are pollution and boat strikes.”

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently classified Hector’s dolphin as endangered, and its distinct North Island population as critically endangered. Ms Lee said the Department of Conservation would advise IUCN of the new population estimates, so that it could consider whether to reclassify the population as vulnerable, instead of endangered.

“I welcome these more reliable population figures. Knowing how many dolphins there are and where they are living helps us plan better management of the species. We now know that the South Island West Coast is the stronghold for these unique endemic dolphins,” she said.

Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson said the new population data has already affected the sequence of the Government policy development for the protection of the species.

"Action to protect the tiny North Island west coast population clearly takes precedence over action to protect the relatively healthy South Island West Coast population," he said.

"Whilst there is no room for complacency, policy responses can be varied around the country in light of updated research."

The recent survey was carried out by a team of Otago University scientists, led by Dr Elisabeth Slooten and Dr Stephen Dawson. It was commissioned by the Department of Conservation with financial support from the fishing industry.


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