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Maui’s Dolphins Get Lifeguard Service


Press release Monday 8 September 2008
Maui’s Dolphins Get Lifeguard Service

Conservation Week brings good news for New Zealand’s critically endangered Maui’s dolphins – they now have 850 west coast lifeguards looking out for them.

Lifeguards at the Muriwai, Bethells Beach, United North Piha, Piha, Karekare and Kariotahi Surf Life Saving Clubs are now extending their duty of care by keeping a watchful eye out for Maui’s dolphins, the rarest marine dolphins in the world.

The six clubs are now part of WWF’s Maui’s Sightings Network, a reporting facility that WWF uses to track where the Maui’s dolphins are from season to season.

The new partnership between WWF and the West Coast Surf Life Saving clubs means that when the lifeguards see a Maui’s dolphin, they report it to WWF conservationists. They will give the dolphin’s location, time of sighting, the distance from shore and whether any juveniles are in the group, amongst other data.

The dolphins are true locals – Maui’s live only along the west coast of the North Island, and nowhere else in the world.

But human activity including set net and trawl fishing has been killing the dolphins more quickly than they can breed so that now, the species is balanced on a knife-edge of survival. Just 111 Maui’s survive. Conservation organisations including WWF and the Department of Conservation are working hard to save the dolphins from extinction.

The information from the West Coast lifeguards will help WWF conservationists build an accurate, up-to-date picture of the dolphins’ distribution - vital for the conservation of the species.

“We’re really stoked to have the lifeguards on board,” says Victoria Travers, WWF-New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphin education coordinator.

“Having real-time information from the Sightings Network is important for our conservation work, so we want to thank the lifeguards for becoming part of the mission to save our dolphins. It’s incredibly useful data – when Government makes decisions on which areas of the ocean to protect, the Sightings Network is one of the sources of information they use.”

The lifeguards’ involvement in saving Maui’s dolphins came about when WWF’s Victoria Travers approached Rob Wakelin, General Manager of Piha Surf Life Saving Club about using the club as a venue for WWF’s Maui’s education teacher workshop. Rob was concerned to hear that Maui’s are critically endangered and asked how the club could get involved and help.

“I was amazed to hear from Victoria that the dolphins are so endangered,” says Rob. “Asking our lifeguards to report their sightings of Maui’s dolphins seemed like a really natural way that we can help out. No-one probably spends more time out there than us so we’re in the perfect position to help. This is a way we can make a difference and protect the dolphins, so we’re delighted we can do something to stop them from going extinct. The motto of Surf Life Saving New Zealand is In It For Life so it’s really just a small extension of our duty as lifeguards to look out for all the locals, above and below the water.”

Scientists estimate there are now just 111 Maui’s dolphins surviving – which means the west coast lifeguards outnumber the dolphins nearly 8 to 1.

WWF is campaigning for Maui’s dolphins to be protected from all human threats throughout their range, so the dolphins start to recover their numbers once more.

The partnership between WWF and the West Coast lifeguards comes amid Conservation Week celebrations (www.conservationweek.org.nz) an annual Department of Conservation-organised week of events. This year the theme is ‘Meet the Locals’.

ENDS

Notes
· If you see a Maui’s dolphin, call WWF’s Maui’s Sightings Network on 0800 4 MAUIS (0800 462847) to report your sighting. The information helps WWF’s track the dolphins’ location from season to season, and helps WWF campaign for their protection.
· WWF’s Maui’s Sightings Network is kindly operated by Toyota New Zealand call centre staff.
· WWF-New Zealand is running a teacher workshop about Maui’s dolphins at Piha Surf Life Saving Club on 7 October. Teachers who are interested can register by contacting WWF-New Zealand’s Maui’s Education Coordinator Victoria Travers on 021 0467671.
· The biggest threats to Maui’s dolphins’ survival are set net and trawl fishing, which is restricted in some areas of the dolphins’ range. After more than four years of WWF campaigning, the Government announced that more areas of Hector's and Maui's habitat will be protected from set net and trawl fishing from 1 October. For more information see www.wwf.org.nz

Along with net fishing, seismic testing, pollution and boat strikes are also known threats to Maui's dolphins. WWF is campaigning for all human threats to Maui’s, including net fishing, to be banned throughout Maui’s current and historic range, and encourages fishers to change to different methods of catching fish in Maui’s habitat.

About WWF
WWF-New Zealand is part of the WWF International Network, the world’s largest and most experienced independent conservation organisation. It has close to five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. This is achieved by working on the ground with local communities, and in partnership with government and industry, using the best possible science to advocate change and effective conservation policy.


ENDS

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