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Protect Last 55 Adult Maui’s Dolphins Now

13 March 2012

NABU INTERNATIONAL calls on the New Zealand government to show leadership in the conservation of the last surviving Maui’s dolphins.

Yesterday New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) announced that the number of Maui's dolphins over the age of one has reached a historical low of between 48-69 individuals, with a mostly likely point estimate of 55. A previous survey carried out in 2005 put the number of Maui’s dolphins at 111.

NABU International thanks the government for recognising the utmost urgency of this increasingly desperate conservation crisis. “We welcome the decision to bring forward a review of the Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphins Threat Management Plan forward from 2013” says NABU International’s Head of International Species Conservation, Dr. Barbara Maas.

“With regard to preventing any further fatalities amongst the last 55 adults, however, we would have hoped that the Ministers of Conservation and MAF’s sense of urgency would have translated into more rapid action.”

“The government is currently considering interim protection measures after a period of public consultation has elapsed. This is likely to take us into May and may result in a further compromise that fails to offer the species the full protection it requires to return from the very brink. Every day the animals are exposed to gill and trawl nets carries a risk we can’t afford. If ever there was a time to act, it is now.”

“NABU International urges the Primary Industries Minister David Carter to show the commitment leadership that is required to save this species. He can do so by invoking provisions under Section 16 of the Fisheries Act and impose immediate emergency measures to prohibit the use of gillnets and trawling in the dolphins’ range along a 100m depth contour. Better still, he could support the Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson in declaring the full range of Maui’s dolphins a Marine Reserve. This could be achieved very quickly and without risking further dangerous delays imposed by New Zealand’s litigious fishing industry, which used the courts to try and overturn improved protection measures by two Fisheries Ministers in the past.”

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Amongst the areas currently left unprotected are all North Island West coast harbours and the sea off Taranaki to 7 nautical miles offshore. To facilitate genetic replenishing of Maui’s dolphins with South Island Hector’s dolphins, the Tasman and Golden Bays would also have to be included in new fisheries restrictions.

“The government’s own research has now shown what we have warned about for years. A population of 55 adults means that just over 20 breeding female Maui’s dolphins survive. But because the government’s figures suggest an annual population decline of some three percent, even more Maui’s dolphins will have died since the research was carried out in 2010/11– we know of at least two in the past six months.

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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.

  • Other human threats include marine tourism, vessel traffic, mining, coastal development, pollution, sedimentation, oil spills, plastic bags, marine farming and climate change.



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