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Minister should cancel putting dolphins at risk

Minister urged to cancel decision to put dolphins at risk

Forest and Bird is urging Conservation Minister Chris Carter to overturn a decision by the Department of Conservation (DOC) that will put endangered Hector's dolphins at unnecessary risk.

DOC has decided to bolt satellite tags onto the dolphins against the advice of its own marine mammal scientists, other independent marine mammal scientists, and an unprecedented range of conservation and animal welfare groups.

DOC has approved a proposal from its own Auckland Conservancy which will see the capture of three of the endangered Hector's dolphins.

"They will have four holes drilled into their dorsal fins to allow the satellite transmitter tags to be bolted on. Once the animals are released these transmitters are expected to work for 90 days, but the tags are likely to remain attached to the fins for many months before the bolts eventually rust and break." Forest and Bird Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell, said today.

"Where this technique has been used overseas the bolts have rusted at different rates and the tags have become loose and caused severe damage by ripping the dolphin's dorsal fins".

"The trial which has been approved has no provision for ensuring the long term welfare of the dolphins which will be used." Mr Hackwell said. "This is clearly unacceptable."

"In announcing the trial DOC stated that it had gained approval from the Massey University Animal Ethics Committee. However, this approval was given in early December for an earlier and different version of the trial. The ethics committee was told that once the transmitters failed the animals would be re-caught and the tags would be removed."

"DOC now has no intention of finding the tagged animals and removing the transmitters once they fail."

Mr Hackwell also critcised the process used by DOC to prepare for the trial. "DOC spent a large sum of money flying a researcher from Denmark to New Zealand to do the trial before it had gained permission for the trial to proceed. This is an appalling process and smacks of predetermination".

"It is not as if there are no other options for the Department. As its own marine mammal scientists have shown in a detailed critique of the proposal, aerial surveys are proving very effective at locating dolphins and determining their distribution and can provide the information that is needed without using an invasive technique such as satellite tagging," he said.

"The Minister of Conservation can cancel the delegated power given to DOC to make this flawed decision and can then revoke the decision at any time. This is what Forest and Bird is asking for."


Notes :

Key statements by DOC's Science and Research marine mammal scientists Simon Childerhouse and Ian West in their 56 page report: Scientific Tools to Assist the Management of Maui's Dolphin - an evaluation of scientific tools to explore the adequacy of current protection measures and an assessment of disease and pollutants. WGNCR-48563. January 2004

Tagging will not deliver the goods

However, the principle reason tagging is not recommended is that it is unlikely to provide data at a sufficient level of accuracy to be useful for the management question posed; the degree of protection provided by current protection boundaries" p35

Satellite tagging vs aerial surveys

"We [have] concluded that aerial surveys are to be preferred over satellite tagging" Page 1

Damage to dolphins

"The attachment of a tag using bolts or pins necessitates the capture of a dolphin. This is generally achieved by a tail grab method, hoop net, or by herding a dolphin into a small area through the use of nets and boats. This is followed by lifting the dolphin out of the water and the physical restraint of the dolphin to allow for attachment. Both these methods have been used overseas, but some mortalities and injuries have been reported.... it has not been possible to accurately assess this mortality risk because little information is available in the published literature about the number of deaths as a function of sample size." Page 17

"Mazzarealla 2002 documented significant damage to dorsal fins of bottlenose dolphins from satellite tags."

Tagging innacurate

"The best accuracy that can be expected from dolphins is within approximately 3km of the actual location." p17

Tagging information ... is unlikely to provide sufficient information at the population level for the assessment of the present management questions." p34

Tagging expensive and will impact many dolphins

"Any statistically robust tagging project would be extremely expensive and require the tagging of [a] high proportion of the total estimated population [of Maui's dolphin]." p35

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