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World's rarest marine dolphin close to extinction

NABU PRESS RELEASE | JUNE 7, 2017

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World´s rarest marine dolphin close to extinction despite scientists´ warning

Scientists from the Inernational Whaling Commission (IWC) have warned New Zealand over its inaction to protect the world´s rarest dolphin

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In its new report, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission is clear that despite repeated warnings about the decline of Māui dolphins, New Zealand has failed to enact conservation measures to protect them. The Committee reaffirmed that existing management measures fall short of what is required to prevent the dolphins’ extinction and expressed "continued grave concern over the status of this small, severely depleted subspecies".

Māui dolphins are both the world’s rarest and smallest marine dolphins. They are native to New Zealand, where they inhabit shallow waters off the west coast of the country’s North Island. Their numbers have fallen from several thousand in the 1970s to around 50 individuals today.

"We have known for decades that entanglement in fishing nets is responsible for the precipitous decline of Māui dolphins," explains Thomas Tennhardt, CEO of German conservation group NABU International. "New Zealand’s refusal to heed the advice of the international scientific community is simply scandalous."

The IWC Scientific Committee reiterated that the death of just one individual as a result of human actions would significantly raise the risk of extinction for the diminutive Māuis. According to new research presented by Profs Elisabeth Slooten and Steve Dawson from the University Otago fishing with gill nets is prohibited in just 14 percent of the dolphins’ habitat, while trawling is excluded from a mere five percent. The researchers estimate that two to four Māui dolphins perish in fishing nets each year, causing continued overall decline.

The New Zealand authorities assert that current protection levels are sufficient and that implementing the IWC’s recommendation would unduly cut into fishing industry profits. They told the Committee that "There have been no observer-reported or fisher-reported captures of Māui dolphins in commercial fisheries in the 12-month reporting period to March 31, 2017." However, data presented by scientists from New Zealand and the USA showed that the number of dolphin catches referred to in the government’s report are just the tip of the iceberg. Only two percent of boats fishing in the dolphin’s habitat carry official observers, and fishermen voluntarily report only about one percent of dolphin deaths.

"IWC scientists have urged New Zealand time and time again to commit to firm population recovery targets and timelines to bring Māui dolphins back from the brink," says NABU International’s Head of Endangered Species Conservation, Dr Barbara Maas. But instead of delivering on these demands, the New Zealand government procrastinates and tinkers in the margins with research which IWC scientists say is not a priority. Our chance to save Maui’s dolphins is fading fast because New Zealand puts narrow fishing profits before conservation.

One of the reasons the IWC is worried about the fate of Māui dolphins are the baiji or Chinese river dolphin and the vaquita, a Mexican porpoise. The baiji declined from some 400 individuals in the 1980s to around 13 in 1999 and was declared extinct in 2006. More recently, vaquita numbers declined from 60 to just 30 individuals in the past 12 months.


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