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Help DOC record sightings of endangered dolphins

23 October 2008

Help DOC record sightings of critically endangered dolphins

DOC is calling on the public to help to collect crucial information by reporting sightings of critically endangered Maui’s dolphins. Thought to be the rarest oceanic dolphin in the world, with just an estimated 111 dolphins remaining, continuing to increase our understanding of this unique species is extremely important.

A sub-species of the Hector’s dolphin, the Maui’s dolphin is found only off the west coast of the North Island.

Maui’s dolphins are generally found close to shore during summer. The dolphins have distinctive grey, white and black markings and a short snout. Maui’s dolphins, and their close relative the Hector’s dolphin, are the only New Zealand dolphins with a rounded black dorsal fin that looks a bit like a ‘Mickey Mouse’ ear.

DOC’s marine conservation manager Simon Banks says, “You are most likely to see Maui’s dolphins closer to shore over the next few months. This is a rare opportunity for members of the public travelling along the west coast of the North Island to see these unique and endangered dolphins, and to help DOC with the collection of important sightings information.”

Sightings are used to learn more about the distribution of the dolphins and will help DOC to make sure they are adequately protected across their range. DOC asks the public to report sightings of the dolphins to its 0800 DOCHOT line (0800 36 24 68).

“Past observations have increased our knowledge of this rare and endangered marine mammal, but to ensure a secure future for these dolphins we need to continue to obtain as many high quality sightings as possible,” said Mr Banks.

Protection for the dolphins has increased with four new marine mammal sanctuaries, and changes to the existing Banks Peninsula sanctuary, coming into effect today. The sanctuaries are in key dolphin habitats: Clifford and Cloudy Bay in Marlborough, Porpoise Bay on the Catlins Coast, Te Waewae Bay on the south coast, and along the west coast of the North Island.

The sanctuaries are an ideal place for dolphin spotting - Hector’s dolphins in the South Island, and if you are very lucky you might be fortunate enough to see a Maui’s dolphin in the west coast North Island sanctuary.

What to look for
Maui’s dolphins have distinctive grey, white and black markings and a short snout. They are the only New Zealand dolphins with a rounded black dorsal fin. Dolphins are generally found close to shore travelling alone, or in groups or pods of several dolphins. They’re often seen in water less than 20 metres deep, but may also range further offshore. Females can be up to 1.7 meters long and weigh between 40-60 kilograms. Males are slightly smaller and lighter than females.

What to do if you see a Maui’s dolphin
Report sightings of Maui’s dolphins to DOC, preferably as soon as possible, by calling the 0800 DOCHOT line (0800 36 24 68). DOC needs to know the date, time and location of the sighting, the number of dolphins, whether there were any calves, and any other observations regarding their behaviour. If possible, take a photograph (from a camera or mobile phone) of the dolphins with a land feature in the background and a record of the GPS position of the sighting.

Dolphins should be approached slowly, quietly and cautiously, and preferably from behind or parallel to them. Boaties are requested not to obstruct their path or cut through a group. Making sudden noises may startle the animals and should be avoided. Aircraft should keep a 150m distance from dolphins and not fly directly over them.

Find out more about Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins on the DOC website:


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