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Hector’s and Maui’s survival in Kiwi hands

Press Release Embargoed for use on or after 00.01 a.m. 3rd April 2007


Hector’s and Maui’s survival in Kiwi hands, says WWF

WWF is today launching an online petition to demand Helen Clark introduces emergency measures to protect Aotearoa/New Zealand’s iconic Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.

Without immediate protection, the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin could be extinct within a generation.

Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are only found in New Zealand and have been dubbed the “kiwis of the sea”. Like their terrestrial namesake, their numbers have plummeted – thirty years ago there were over 26,000 Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Today, due to human activity, there is a struggling population of around 7,270 Hector’s dolphins – and Maui’s are the rarest marine dolphins in the world with around 110 left. Hector’s dolphins are internationally listed as endangered and Maui’s as critically endangered.[The Maui's dolphin is classified as 'critically endangered' on the IUCN Red List (http://www.iucn.org), and Hector’s are on the IUCN Red List as ‘endangered’.]

But unlike the kiwi, the government has never implemented a species recovery plan for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Consequently, as threats continue to increase, dolphin numbers are continuing to decline. If Maui’s die out, New Zealand will become the world’s first developed nation to drive a marine dolphin to extinction. If this happens, it would put clean, green New Zealand on equal footing with China which is thought to have driven theYangtze River dolphin to extinction [For more information go to http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/freshwater/news/index.cfm?uNewsID=89780].

WWF’s petition to demand immediate protection for Hector’s and Maui’s officially launches today, Tuesday 3rd April 2007 at wwf.org.nz

WWF-New Zealand’s Executive Director Chris Howe is confident the petition will gather enough support to motivate the government to take action: “We’re urging all New Zealanders who are proud of their national marine taonga to show their support and sign our petition. We will personally present the petition to Helen Clark to convince her that New Zealanders care passionately about our native wildlife and want a future where Hector’s and Maui’s live and thrive in our coastal waters.”

WWF is asking New Zealanders to sign the petition online at wwf.org.nz. The petition is calling for the government to:

- Implement an effective action plan for the recovery of the species
- Introduce a total ban on set nets within the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
- Introduce a total ban on trawling in nearshore waters shallower than 100 meters in depth
- Identify, manage and mitigate all other potential threats to Hector’s and Maui’s to ensure their future survival and recovery

In November 2004, WWF officially challenged the government to introduce a recovery plan to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.

“We presented rigourous scientific research that clearly showed Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are being killed by human activity faster than they can breed,” explains WWF’s Chris Howe. “We challenged the government to respond within six months. Two and a half years later, dolphin numbers are still declining and the government has yet to act. We need the New Zealand public to sign our online petition and demand the government take action now. The situation is critical, but there is still hope. If we act now to remove all possible threats to the dolphins, we have the chance to save these charismatic animals which are part of our national identity.”

The latest figures from the Department of Conservation show there were four Maui’s reported dead this summer. WWF marine campaigner Rebecca Bird explains the significance of such a death toll for the species: “Four dead Maui’s in five months is simply unsustainable for this critically endangered species. And these are just the reported incidents – actual deaths are likely to be higher. This is a species that has a very slow breeding rate. A female will have just one calf every three years, and only three to four calves in their entire lifetime.

“If you do the maths, there are only around 110 Maui’s and half of these are likely to be female. Half of those females will be of breeding age. So that’s around 25 to 28 breeding females, which only just qualifies as a viable population. The future survival of Maui’s is critically dependent on so few dolphins - just one death is enough to tip the balance. It really brings home how urgent the situation is and why we need to pull out all the stops now to turn this around.”

For more information, and to sign WWF’s petition go to www.wwf.org.nz.

ENDS

Note to editors: WWF is now known simply by its initials and the panda logo. If using a descriptor please use: WWF, the global conservation organisation.

Background information:
- Maui’s dolphins are the genetically distinct North Island sub-species of the South Island Hector’s dolphins. Since the 1970s, numbers of Hector’s and Maui’s has dropped from over 26,000 to approximately 7,270 Hector’s and 110 Maui’s dolphins today. (Source: DoC.)
- The 2007 Department of Conservation figures show that there have been four Maui’s dolphins reported dead over the summer (from Nov. 06 to date).
- Maui’s dolphins only live in coastal waters from Dargaville to Taranaki.
- Tourism, boat traffic and pollution are threats to Maui’s and Hector’s dolphin. The largest threat to the species is commercial and recreational fishing.
- WWF led a group of NGOs in November 2004 setting the government a Conservation Challenge for the recovery of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.
- The government responded with interim measures, but has yet to respond with a Threat Management Plan. WWF is concerned that when a plan is produced, it will be too little too late.
- WWF is today launching an online petition for New Zealanders to sign to ask the government for a comprehensive plan to save the species.

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