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NZ Criticised Over Failure To Protect Rare Dophins

For immediate release: 6 July 2012

NABU International

International Whaling Commission criticises New Zealand OVER FAILURE to protect RARE dolphins

Hundreds of delegates from government and conservation groups are gathered in Panama at the 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) this week to discuss the future of world’s whales.

Amidst the annual wrangling between pro- and anti-whaling fractions, there has also been occasion to consider the fate of the world's smallest and rarest marine cetacean, New Zealand’s little known Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphins.

The IWC’s scientific body urged New Zealand to take immediate steps to arrest the decade of decline of its only native dolphins, pointing out that current protection measures are inadequate in terms of the area and the fishing methods they cover.

Since the introduction of nylon filament nets in the 1970s, Hector’s dolphin numbers have dropped from 30,000 to around 7,000. The situation for Maui’s dolphins, a subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, is even worse. More than 94% are already lost and Maui’s dolphins are now confined to very small remnant population on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. With just 55 survivors older than one year, less than 20 breeding females, and an annual decline of around three percent, Maui's dolphins are facing imminent extinction.

Research, considered by the IWC’s Scientific Committee, showed that protected areas are simply too small to be effective, and progress in extending gillnet and trawl net free areas has been too slow to achieve recovery as part of New Zealand’s national and international obligations. In one area off the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Hector’s dolphin bycatch exceeds sustainable levels about 23 times.

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“Hector's and Maui's dolphins inhabit coastal waters up to a depth of 100 meters”, says Dr Barbara Maas, of the German conservation group NABU International, which released a report highlighting the urgent need to protect this species at the IWC.”

“We are delighted that the IWC’s has confirmed what scientists have been pointing out all along, namely that numbers continue to decline because only a small fraction of the dolphins home is protected against gillnetting and trawling.”

“New Zealand tried to deflect these criticisms by pointing towards a recent extension of the protected area for Maui’s dolphins. Yet New Zealand failed to mention that these measures are merely temporary, don’t include trawl fishing and do not apply to most of the dolphins’ habitat. They therefore fall short of the IWC’s directions and will not prevent the dolphins’ extinction.”

“The New Zealand Government has been exposed to fierce pressure from fishing interests, which strongly oppose any measures to protect the dolphins. We are therefore delighted that the IWC has confirmed what scientists and conservationists have been calling all along: a ban on gillnets and trawling in waters up to 100m depth.”

“NABU International sincerely hopes that New Zealand will finally show the commitment and leadership required to avert the first extinction of a marine cetacean as a result of human activities and leave the Hector’s and Maui’s as a continuing legacy for the world. Failure to do so will forever tarnish New Zealand’s reputation as an environmentally responsible nation.”

ENDS

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