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“Franken” science won’t save Maui dolphin

Correspondence between MPI (Fisheries NZ) and NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmosphere), obtained by Sea Shepherd under the Official Information Act, shows conclusively that MPI unreasonably influenced the research they had contracted from NIWA for this year’s Hector’s and Māui dolphins Threat Management Plan.

One of the NIWA scientists refused to make further changes to the work and used the word “Franken” to describe the type of modeling they were being asked to construct.

Even though the documents are heavily redacted in places it is clear from the correspondence that MPI had a particular end result in mind, and reverse-engineered the research project to come up with that result.

Prof Liz Slooten says “The survey data show conclusively that Hector’s dolphins range offshore throughout waters less than 100 metres deep. Instead of acting on these research data, and developing a protection plan for Hector’s and Maui dolphins throughout their range, MPI contracted NIWA to construct a habitat model to show where dolphins ‘should be’. We need to protect these dolphins where they actually live, out to the 100 m mark, as recommended by the IUCN.”

NIWA’s habitat model indicated that Hector’s and Maui dolphins commonly use harbours, throughout their range. This is also shown by population survey data, from MPI, Auckland and Otago Universities.

MPI requested many changes to the habitat model that reduced dolphin numbers inside harbours and reduced their offshore range to a narrow strip close to the coastline.

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At about this point, NIWA refused to make further changes to the model and MPI themselves made the final modifications. The MPI work flies in the face of research data on Maui dolphins which includes sightings, strandings and acoustic detections of Maui dolphins inside harbours.

The correspondence obtained under the Official Information Act shows very clear evidence of MPI cherry-picking the scientific information to suit its political agenda. The changes made to the model resulted in under-estimating the number of dolphins killed each year and making the protection options in the Threat Management Plan look more effective.

MPI have attempted to pull the wool over the Ministers’ eyes with an overly complex modelling approach. The scientific data tell a very different story.

“I can’t see how the Minsters can be expected to make a balanced decision when the information they have been presented with has been derived from a series of arbitrary decisions” says Sea Shepherd New Zealand Managing Director Michael Lawry.

The scientific basis for the Hector’s and Māui dolphins Threat Management Plan (2019) options is fundamentally flawed.

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