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Dolphin deaths show better protection needed

8 January 2008 - Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use

Increased dolphin deaths show better protection needed

Deaths of endangered Hector’s dolphins increased in 2007 despite introduction of interim protection measures, figures obtained by Forest & Bird show.

Department of Conservation figures show that 25 Hector’s dolphins were reported found dead in 2007, up from 15 in 2006.

The most recent reported deaths are:


Hector’s dolphin (newborn), Cape Wanbrow, Oamaru, suspected natural cause.

Maui’s dolphin (the critically endangered North Island subspecies of Hector’s dolphin), Manu Bay, Raglan.


Hector’s dolphin (Okarito, West Coast)

Hector’s dolphin (Long Beach, Otago)

Hector’s dolphin (Takutai, south of Hokitika)

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says the number of deaths increased despite the introduction of “interim protection measures” which aimed to better protect the dolphins while a threat management plan is being developed.

“Interim measures – requiring that people don’t leave set nets unattended in Kaikoura and Te Waewae Bay in Southland – are not stopping dolphins from being killed. Comprehensive protection is urgently required if we are to prevent further deaths.”

The Government had intended to complete a threat management plan outlining protection measures for Hector’s dolphins by the end of 2006, but the plan has now been delayed till March.

Kirstie Knowles says Government condemnation of Japanese whaling was hypocritical while marine mammals in New Zealand waters which are more seriously endangered than the whales are not adequately protected.

“We can’t be taken seriously in criticizing another country’s actions in threatening endangered marine mammals while we are allowing our own endangered marine mammals to be killed at home.”

A number of the deaths in 2007 may have been caused by dolphins becoming entangled in set nets – one death was confirmed as being caused by a set net, another was “probably” caused by a set net and two more were “possibly” caused by set nets. Three were confirmed as natural causes.

Kirstie Knowles says many dead dolphins were not found till their bodies had decomposed too much for the cause of death to be determined.

“The official figures are just the tip of the iceberg. We need to get serious about protecting them from human-induced threats – a comprehensive Threat Management Plan including a total ban on set nets is urgently needed to protect this endangered species.”

- Hector’s dolphin is on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of species threatened with extinction, with about 7000 remaining (down from about 26,000 in the 1970s, when set nets began to be widely used). It is the world’s rarest marine dolphin.

- Maui’s dolphin is the genetically distinct subspecies of Hector’s dolphin, found only off the north-west coast of the North Island. Only an estimated 111 individuals remain and Maui’s dolphin is listed as critically endangered.

- Set nets are banned or heavily restricted in many countries worldwide, including Australia, the UK and USA.


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