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Countdown to Extinction Continues for World’s Rarest Dolphin

31 January 2012

Countdown to Extinction Continues for World’s Rarest Dolphin

Another one of the world's last 100 Maui’s dolphins died in a fishing net in New Zealand. Its death is a a stark reminder that measures to protect the world’s most endangered marine dolphin against fisheries bycatch are inadequate to prevent their extinction.

Like their closely related cousins, the Hector’s dolphin, Maui’s dolphins are found only in New Zealand. Since nylon fishing nets came into use in the 1970s, entanglements in gill and trawl nets have decimated Maui’s dolphins by more than 90 Percent. The animals are now down to just 100 individuals.

“With no more than 25 adult females left, Maui’s dolphins are perilously close to extinction. If mortality exceeds one individual in 5 to 7 years, the species will continue to slide towards extinction, just as it has done for more than three decades”, warns Dr Barbara Maas, Head of Endangered Species Conservation with NABU International – Foundation for Nature, Germany’s oldest and largest environmental association.

“Absolute protection against commercial and recreational gill-netting and trawling is the only way to prevent their demise,” she said.

The latest fatality occurred off the coastal region off Taranaki on New Zealand’s North Island. This sensitive area has been left unprotected by successive governments due to fishing industry lobbying, despite strong warnings from scientists, including NABU International’s Barbara Maas.

The New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s (MAF) response to the dolphin death was characteristically relaxed. It stated that "MAF has fishing restrictions in place to manage threats to Maui's dolphins, which are a protected species under the Mammals Protection Act 1978”. “The recent mortality occurred outside of the current known range of Maui's dolphins, as well as outside the current restrictions”, a MAF spokesman added.

Research by Dr. Liz Slooten and colleagues from the University of Otago showed as far back as 2005, that Maui’s dolphins frequent the area in question. In 2009, a local fisherman even captured a Maui’s dolphin on his mobile phone camera, but the New Zealand government failed to accept this evidence.

“We have been urging the government for many years to protect this stretch of coast, as it provides a genetic bridge between the last surviving Maui’s dolphins and the more numerous but also declining Hector’s dolphin population off the South Island. More than 4200 people from across the world have echoed our plea through our online petition (https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-extinction-of-hectors-mauis-dolphins). This latest death is therefore not only a further milestone on the path to extinction for NZ's only endemic dolphin, it was also entirely avoidable. “

“It seems that while many New Zealanders feel an affinity to the ocean and marine mammals, that Maui's dolphins are simply overlooked. There is also a lack of willingness on behalf of the media to thoroughly investigate this global conservation issue.”

“The nationwide shock and upset following the continued death of wildlife after the Rena Oil spill, the hard work put in by rescuers at last week’s stranding of 99 pilot whales, and the level of concern for the big cats at Zion Park points to a nation that cares about conservation ethics and biodiversity. The demise of Maui's dolphins is at odds with this behaviour. “

“Despite overwhelming evidence that Maui’s dolphins are being killed faster than they can breed, there is a conspiracy of silence concerning these unique marine mammals”, says Thomas Tennhardt, Vice President of NABU and Chair of NABU International. Unless we can break it, Maui’s dolphins simply don’t stand a chance. Their extinction is unlikely to flatter New Zealand's international image”.

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.
• Recent, as yet unpublished government figures indicate that Maui’s dolphin numbers have dropped well below 100 individuals.
• Other human threats include marine tourism, vessel traffic, mining, coastal development, pollution, sedimentation, oil spills, plastic bags, marine farming and climate change.

Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/425525340067/

Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-extinction-of-hectors-mauis-dolphins

ENDS

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