Action needed to prevent NZ dolphin extinctions

Forest & Bird said today evidence is growing about the need for further immediate action to stop the slide towards extinction of New Zealand’s endemic Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins.

Hector's dolphin, Erin Green

Hector's dolphin, Erin Green

“These dolphins are on the brink of extinction and the main way we can save them is to tighten fishing regulations in the areas where they live,” Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Katrina Subedar said.

“Evidence is mounting that we will lose these dolphins unless we extend areas where set nets are banned and that we further restrict fishing techniques in seas where Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are found.

“These dolphins are the smallest and rarest in the world, and are found nowhere else. It is our responsibility to ensure they don’t disappear from the planet.”

The numbers of Hector’s dolphins have fallen from 30,000 to around just 7,000 since the 1970s, the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity in Aberdeen, Scotland, will be told this week.

Fewer than 100 of the Maui’s dolphins remain, and it is estimated fewer than 25 are adult females, the conference will be told by Dr Barbara Maas, head of endangered species conservation with NABU International – Foundation for Nature, one of Germany’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.

Research examining observer data by Dr Liz Slooten of Otago University and Dr Nick Davies, formerly of NIWA, shows that each year 23 Hector’s dolphins drown in commercial gillnets off the east coast of the South Island.

The sustainable limit for this area would be about one dolphin a year, and the current rate of by-catch will see the population fall by at least 14 percent by 2050, Dr Slooten estimated.

“While there have been restrictions on the use of set nets in some of the areas where Hectors’ dolphins live, this research shows other types of fishing techniques cause big losses too,” Katrina Subedar said.

“We believe the government should not have removed the set net prohibition rule on areas around the east coast of the South Island because Hector’s dolphins are still being killed by commercial fishing.”

Dr Maas said trawl nets are likely to claim as many Hector’s dolphins as commercial gillnets, and commercial fishing is causing an estimated total of 46 deaths annually along the east coast of the South Island.

“Forest & Bird believes more key areas need protecting, particularly Taranaki, Tasman Bay and Golden Bay. Ensuring these dolphins’ survival is more important than continuing to allow the use of unsustainable and dangerous fishing techniques. ,” Katrina Subedar said.