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Fight For Endangered Maui's Dolphin Takes To Sky

Press release from WWF, the conservation organisation.

30 January 2004

Fight for endangered Maui's dolphin takes to the sky

The first stage of an aerial survey of the Maui's dolphin has just been completed. Maui's are critically endangered - the population is thought to number fewer than 100. A team of scientists from the University of Otago and the Department of Conservation have carried out the first of two aerial surveys off the west coast of the North Island, between Maunganui Bluff (near Dargaville) and Pariokariwa Point (north of New Plymouth).

The main aim of the survey is to determine the distribution of the local population, in particular how far offshore they are found and whether this changes seasonally. The survey is jointly funded by the Department of Conservation and WWF-New Zealand.

"We need to find out exactly where the Maui's dolphin is distributed in summer and winter because the current set net ban in the region is only to 4 nautical miles offshore and the ban on trawling is only to 1 nautical mile offshore. We cannot underestimate the risk Maui's face from fishing activity outside these areas," says Chris Howe, WWF Conservation Director.

The North Island survey will estimate the proportion of the Maui's dolphin population that is protected within the 4 nautical miles set net ban boundary in summer and winter. The January survey is the first of two surveys, with a winter survey planned for July 2004.

"Around Banks Peninsula, and along the southern coast of the South Island, Hector's dolphins are found much closer to shore in summer than in winter. For example, the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary protects most of the population in summer, but in winter only 35% of the population is inside the protected area. If that is the case here in the North Island, it may be necessary to extend the offshore boundary," says Dr Liz Slooten.

Department of Conservation Auckland conservator Rob McCallum says the aerial survey will help fill gaps in our information about the distribution of Maui's dolphins.

"Finding out where the dolphins range is the most pressing research question we need to answer in the fight to save our most threatened dolphin. Without this we can't fully avoid threats from fishing and won't know how effective the present set netting ban is," says Rob McCallum.

The surveys use a Partenavia six-seater plane from the Canterbury Aero Club (CAC), flown by Vaughn Richardson a flying instructor from CAC.

"This first survey has been very encouraging. The survey team reported sighting Maui's close to shore, but they will need to complete the winter survey before they can analyse the seasonal distribution," says Jo Breese, WWF Chief Executive.

Notes:

- Maui's dolphin has been recognised as a new sub-species, and was formerly known as the North Island Hector's dolphin.

The four dolphin observers are: Dr Liz Slooten, Senior Lecturer, Zoology Department, Otago University Dr Steve Dawson, Senior Lecturer, Marine Science Department, Otago University Simon Childerhouse, Marine Mammal Scientist, Department of Conservation Will Rayment, PhD student, Otago University

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