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Tragic reminder of the challenge ahead

8 August 2007

Tragic reminder of the challenge ahead

Scientists' conclusion that the Yangtze River dolphin or Baiji is functionally extinct is a cautionary reminder to New Zealanders that several of our rare marine mammals face the same fate.

"This is a tragedy for the global community, but must serve as a forceful reminder to us - coming as it does during Conservation Week - that we have a lot of work to do to secure the future of our dolphins and whales," Green Party Conservation Spokesperson Metiria Turei says.

Not only is the Yangtze River dolphin the first extinction of a large vertebrate in more than 50 years, it holds the shameful distinction of being the world's first cetacean to be made extinct by humans.

"At the rate we're going New Zealand is a likely contender to take out second, third and fourth places on this roster of shame," Mrs Turei says.

"Currently, New Zealand has three species of endemic dolphins considered highly endangered. The Maui's dolphins number barely 100, and Doubtful Sound bottlenose dolphins number around half of that. Hector's dolphins are also under continual threat from fishing nets and now, from oil exploration.

The Department of Conservation estimates that there are only 30 Southern Right Whales left in the New Zealand mainland population. These Baleen whales are particularly susceptible to acoustic surveys yet the Government is handing out permits to overseas oil companies to exploit the Great South Basin, an area of 'permanent ecological importance'.

"Several decisive steps should be taken urgently: coastal set net bans to protect Hector's dolphins, a sanctuary for Maui's dolphins, and immediate steps to save the Doubtful Sound Bottlenose dolphin. We must also rethink the wisdom of opening up the Great South Basin for doubtful economic benefits and inevitable environmental cost.

"This sad news of the Baiji's demise should be seen as motivation as we celebrate Conservation Week, that 'Clean, Green, New Zealand' includes staunch protection for our vulnerable marine mammals," Mrs Turei says.


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