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Grave concerns for native dolphin extinction

Leading global authority on whale and dolphin conservation warns New Zealand government of its grave concerns for native dolphin extinction

Today leading international charity, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), warned the New Zealand government that if there are not immediate moves to phase out destructive fishing methods, native Māui dolphins are destined for extinction.

Some of the world’s smallest dolphins, Māui, are critically endangered and heading towards extinction with fewer than 60 remaining. Their close cousin, the Hector’s dolphin is classed as ‘nationally vulnerable’. National WDC spokesperson, New Zealand marine biologist Philippa Brakes, says that the international organisation has grave fears for these dolphins, who are found only in New Zealand waters.

In light of the serious human-threat to New Zealand dolphins, today WDC launches its nationwide campaign and call to action, #SaveNZDolphins. The charity has partnered with ActionStation, an independent community campaigning organisation, on a petition calling for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government to take immediate action for these dolphins.

Today and tomorrow WDC is publishing a full page advertisement in the Dominion Post newspaper, and its online platform, to raise government and public awareness of these dolphins’ desperate plight.

“Unless set net and trawl fishing practices are immediately phased out to the 100 metre depth contour nationwide, these very special dolphins will continue to die, and could eventually disappear completely.

“If an environmentally-conscious nation such as New Zealand can’t save its own native dolphin species what hope is there for the rest of the country’s biodiversity?” says Brakes.

Brakes says while the global charity welcomes the current review of New Zealand’s Threat Management Plan, which is supposed to protect the dolphins, it believes the current proposals are woefully inadequate and will not prevent Māui dolphins from extinction.

“We are alarmed that the proposed regulations allow for up to 50 Hector’s Dolphins to be caught in nets annually on the East Coast of the South Island. This is unacceptable and unsustainable.

“Having worked in the international conservation arena for several decades, it is obvious to me that New Zealand’s important reputation as a leader in environmental issues could be on the line if the government does not take decisive action and transition the country away from destructive fishing methods within Māui and Hector’s dolphin habitats.

“In addition to sustainability issues, there are significant animal welfare concerns with these dolphins becoming trapped in nets. Like humans, marine mammals can’t breathe underwater. When Māui and Hector’s dolphins get entangled in nets they start to panic, many endure terrible wounds and even broken bones trying to escape. When they can’t struggle anymore, rather than drown, the evidence shows that they actually close their blowhole and suffocate; dying a slow painful death,” says Brakes.

“The New Zealand government needs to step up now to protect these critically endangered, endemic mammals and develop a fair solution for fishers”.

Additional Information:

· WDC works with governments throughout the world to ensure laws are toughened to stop dolphins dying as a result of fishery operations.

· The Department of Conservation lists the Hector’s dolphin as a nationally vulnerable species and the Māui dolphin as a critically endangered species. Both Māui and Hector’s are also listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as critically endangered and endangered, respectively.

· Māui and Hector’s dolphins are endemic to New Zealand, this is only place on earth these dolphins can be found.

· Māui are declining at around 3-4% a year, and likely not to recover unless human-caused deaths decrease by 75%.

· In the 1970s there were around 50,000 Hector’s dolphins, now not much more than 10,000 remain, and for Māui Dolphins, there were around 2,000, now fewer than 60 left.

· Around 110 to 150 Hector’s and Māui dolphins die in set nets every year and a similar number in trawls.

· Right now Māui and Hector’s dolphins are protected from set nets in only 30% of their habitat and from trawl nets in less than 10%.

ends

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