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New threat levels for marine mammals point to flawed system

New threat levels for marine mammals point to flawed system

Forest & Bird says the improved threat status for New Zealand sea lions and Hector’s dolphins masks the ongoing dangers facing these species.

The Department of Conservation has today released an updated report on the threat classifications for marine mammals.

Forest & Bird's marine advocate Katrina Goddard is critical of the improved status for sea lions, from Nationally Critical to Nationally Vulnerable. “There has been no recovery for sea lions. It’s optimistic to say they’re even stable.”

“The latest pup estimate was lower than last year. The threats haven’t changed. Sea lions aren’t improving – this is a species still in real danger.”

“This is an illustration of how flawed the assessment criteria are.”

Marine advocate Anton van Helden says despite being downgraded to Nationally Vulnerable, the plight of Hector’s dolphins has not changed.

“Aerial surveys give us a larger population size for Hector’s dolphins than we thought. But what that also means is that we now know they range further than previously thought, and so are potentially exposed to other risks.”

“Some of these populations are very small, their ranges overlap with human threats such as set nets and trawl fisheries, and they are increasingly vulnerable to disease. There are very few protected areas in place for them.”

Mr van Helden says it should ring alarm bells that Māui dolphins remain critically endangered.

“The current management of this sub-species is failing to improve their plight. We need to reduce human threats as close to zero as possible, for Māui dolphins to have any real chance of survival, and to ultimately recover.

“We urgently need a zero bycatch goal from government and industry, cameras on commercial fishing boats, and a representative network of no-take marine reserves if we are serious about reducing threats to our marine mammals,” says Mr van Helden.

Mr van Helden also points to the 30 marine mammal species now in the Data Deficient category, up from 12.

“The reality is we just don’t know enough about the populations of these species in New Zealand to make an assessment, and they should really be considered ‘Assumed Threatened.’

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