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NZ ignores calls to protect Maui’s dolphins from extinction

Press Release

For immediate release: 3rd September 2013

New Zealand ignores calls by international scientific institutions to protect Maui’s dolphins from extinction

In the past 15 months three international scientific bodies have repeatedly urged the New Zealand Government to protect the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins from extinction. But the calls by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) have fallen on deaf ears. Now the SMM, the pre-eminent body of international marine mammal scientists, issues its third appeal to the Government, stating that any further fishing-related deaths are unacceptable if Maui’s dolphins are to survive. The Society’s letter follows the announcement of proposals to slightly increase protection for Maui's dolphins, and the death of a Maui’s dolphin on the 13th September.
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In a letter to New Zealand’s Minister for Conservation, Nick Smith, published last night, SMM’s President Helen Marsh acknowledges that effective protection measures will impact the local fishing industry. However, Prof. Marsh explains that “it will be necessary to reduce the risk of Maui's dolphins being caught in nets to zero” to pull them back from the brink of extinction. “This can only be done by extending the proposed netting closures to cover the entire range of the Maui's dolphin”, she adds. 

Fishing with gillnets and trawling poses the most serious threat to the dolphins’ survival. Forty years ago there were an estimated 1,800 Maui dolphins. Today there are just some 46 individuals aged one year and older. Because the population is so small, Maui’s dolphins can only survive a single death at human hands every 10 to 23 years. But fishing alone kills about five Maui's dolphins each year.

Current Government proposals would extend the ban on gillnets but not of the more lucrative trawl fishery in a small part of the dolphins’ range. “These plans are woefully inadequate ", says Thomas Tennhardt, CEO of German conservation group NABU International, which has been advocating effective protection for Maui’s dolphins for years. “If New Zealand continues to ignore the scientific community’s urgent recommendations, its environmental reputation is as much at risk as the dolphins’ survival."

Dr Liz Slooten who has studied the dolphins for 30 years says that “a small improvement to existing protection measures, such as the extension proposed by Conservation Minister Nick Smith, would have been helpful 20 or 30 years ago when there were still hundreds of Maui's dolphins. Now that we're down to 50 or so individuals we need to pull all the stops to avoid them going extinct”.

The New Zealand government has asked for public comments on its proposals by 10th October. NABU International has launched an online petition, which gives everyone the opportunity to participate in this consultation.

New Zealander and 15 times freedive world record holder William Trubridge is an active supporter of NABU International’s Maui’s dolphin campaign. The New Zealand freediving team even chose Maui's dolphins as their mascot while competing at the World Championships Greece in September.

"It was an honour for us to represent NZ and the Maui's Dolphin at the World Championships.  However with the Maui's species in such a critical state, then unless it is protected unequivocally throughout its range, we will soon lose this iconic species, and then it may no longer be an honour for us to represent our country."

ENDS

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