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Government Inaction a Death Sentence for Maui’s Dolphins


9 February 2012
Government Inaction a Death Sentence for Maui’s Dolphins

New Zealand’s Primary Industries Minister David Carter said his government will do nothing to protect the last Maui’s dolphins against extinction as a result of fisheries bycatch.

“The New Zealand government’s continued unwillingness to protect the world’s rarest marine dolphin means that Maui’s dolphins remain on course to become the first man-made extinction of a marine cetacean”, says Dr Barbara Maas, Head of Endangered Species Conservation at NABU International Foundation for Nature. “Even the whalers didn’t quite manage that.”

Less than 25 breeding Maui’s dolphin females survive after the population has been progressively decimated by fishing for more than 30 years. With numbers this low, even the death of one animal can have devastating consequences for the entire species.
Researchers from the University of Otago calculated that if human induced mortality exceeds a single death every 5 to 7 years, Maui’s dolphins will become extinct. In the past five months at least two Maui’s drowned in nets in an area off Taranaki, which remains unprotected against fishing, the dolphins’ main threat.

Dr Liz Slooten, who has studied Maui’s dolphins for almost three decades says “There is ample evidence that Maui’s dolphins are found in this area from repeated sightings, strandings, video evidence, and now another Maui’s dolphin death in a gillnet. Given that there are only about 100 Maui’s dolphins left, it is a small miracle that there is so much scientific data about their distribution and biology. There is simply nothing more that scientists can do. It is now time for the politicians to act. They need to close this loophole as soon as possible, or we’ll lose Maui’s dolphin forever.”

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In 2005, New Zealand’s Ministry of Fisheries itself published a scientific study, which identifies this stretch of coastline as part of the species’ range.

Fishing effort off Taranaki is high, and the fishing industry has lobbied hard against fishing restrictions that would protect the dolphins. In 2007, when protection measures for Maui’s dolphins were under consideration, the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) maintained that assurances by commercial fishermen about the dolphins’ absence in these waters “constitute best available information”.

“Time is running out for Maui’s dolphins”, says NABU International’s President Thomas Tennhardt. “The Minister of Fisheries has the power to put emergency measures in place to protect this species right now. NABU International is urging him do act immediately in this regard, instead of rejecting both scientific fact and a growing groundswell of international calls for the protection of one of the world’s rarest mammals.”
Maui’s Dolphin Facts
• Maui’s dolphins the world’s rarest and smallest marine dolphins
• Fishing is the greatest known human threat to Maui’s dolphins
• Maui’s dolphins prefer shallow waters up to 100m deep and are therefore highly vulnerable to fishing nets.
• Hector’s dolphins are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. This means that they are “facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future”.
• Females only have one calf every 2-4 years and do not reach breeding age until they are 7-9 years old. Their potential for recovery is therefore extremely slow even occasional deaths caused by human activity pose a significant threat.
• Recent, as yet unpublished government figures indicate that Maui’s dolphin numbers have dropped well below 100 individuals.
• Other human threats include marine tourism, vessel traffic, mining, coastal development, pollution, sedimentation, oil spills, plastic bags, marine farming and climate change.

Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins on facebook:
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FEBRUARY 9, 2012

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