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SailGP Event Threatens Hector's Dolphins

Concern Over Impending SailGP Event Threatening Hector's Dolphins in Ōtautahi/Christchurch

[Hamilton, 16 March 2024]

With the upcoming SailGP event in Ōtautahi/Christchurch looming, there is mounting apprehension regarding the safety of Hector's dolphins, an endangered species unique to New Zealand waters. The event, scheduled to take place in an area frequented by these dolphins, presents grave risks due to the increased boat traffic and high-speed F50 foils used in the race.

New Zealand's Hector's dolphins, once abundant, are now classified as endangered, however the Marine Mammal Management Plan (MMMP) designed to protect the Upokohue/Hector’s dolphins was only released 14 March. That’s just 9 days before the race begins! This provides scant time for the pre-training briefings required by all involved or for feedback on the plan.

Danette Wereta, from the Animal Justice Party (AJP), emphasised the absurdity of prioritising a race over the protection of such a precious species, stating, "Honestly, it's ridiculous to think that these precious dolphins will be at risk for entertainment."

Last year's SailGP event in Lyttelton Harbour/Whakaraupō highlighted the disregard for marine life, with instructions to cease racing when dolphins were detected ignored. Despite clear concerns raised, little action seems to have been taken to address the risks posed to these vulnerable animals. In fact, this years’ MMMP seems vague on the consequences should something similar, or worse, occur during this period.

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Wereta added, "While these events may be visually spectacular, they should not come at the expense of our precious marine wildlife. The fact that SailGP and ChristchurchNZ will “immediately discuss in good faith the consequences of any non-compliance with a view to SailGP taking steps to deal with such breach (if possible) as soon as practicable” does not reassure us."

The absence of crucial measures, such as underwater acoustic detectors, in the current management plan is a concern. "The 2024 plan lacks essential components that were deemed crucial in previous versions, particularly the absence of underwater acoustic detectors," Wereta remarked, "These detectors are essential for understanding dolphin behavior and mitigating potential harm."

AJP urges concerned individuals to express their dissatisfaction with the situation. "It's time to speak up and make it known that endangering Hector's dolphins for the sake of a sporting event is not acceptable," Wereta stated, "We encourage everyone to join us on social media to voice their concerns and demand action. Check out our Facebook and Instagram page for details."

The public deserves assurance that the safety and well-being of Hector's dolphins and the marine environment will not be compromised for the sake of entertainment. We call on SailGP organisers, Christchurch NZ and sponsors to prioritise the protection of these endangered dolphins taking into account the grave risks posed by increased boat traffic and high-speed training, rehearsals and racing in areas frequented by marine life.

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