Government slow to act to stop extinction as dolphin population hits record low

Posted on 14 March 2012
The New Zealand Government has been criticised by global conservation group WWF for not acting quickly enough to stop the possible extinction of Maui’s dolphins, after releasing figures that show the adult population is down to just 55.

The new official population estimate for Maui’s dolphins was finally released yesterday after months of review by the Department of Conservation (1). This is a significant drop from the 111 animals estimated in 2005.

The Government has proposed added protection measures while a full review is done and asked for a planned review of the Hectors and Maui’s Threat Management Plan to be brought forward from 2013 to this year (2).

Rebecca Bird, WWF’s Marine Programme Manager says, “The Minister of Primary Industries David Carter has been too slow to act. The female Maui’s dolphin drowned in fishing nets off the coast of Taranaki in January, outside of the protection zone, should have resulted in an immediate extension of set net and trawling restrictions throughout the dolphin’s full range. It has long been known that Maui’s live off the Taranaki coast and it shouldn’t have taken the death of this animal to prompt an official recognition of this fact.”

The Minister has powers under the Fisheries Act to respond in emergency situations to protect species at risk.

“Mr Carter says the Government must balance several factors in proposing interim protection measures, including the impact on the local fishing community. It is unacceptable to put limited economic arguments ahead of extinction prevent measures”, says Ms Bird.

“It is a national tragedy that our critically endangered dolphins are still dying needlessly in fishing nets. We need to act immediately to get nets out of the water, including harbours and estuaries, to protect these dolphins throughout their range.

“We can’t change our past to bring back species like the moa that are lost forever, but we must not, and will not, give up on our critically endangered dolphins. We know that solutions exist to save Maui’s, it is time the government acted on behalf of all New Zealanders to protect this precious national treasure. The world is watching.”

WWF is calling on the Government to ban set net fishing throughout Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins’ habitat, to prevent more dolphins dying needlessly in nets. The global conservation organisation is also campaigning for the implementation of a government-led effective action plan for the recovery of these dolphins that identifies, manages and mitigates all other threats to the species, such as boat strike, pollution, coastal development, sand-mining and exploration for oil and gas.


Notes to editors

Maui’s dolphins are an in-shore species found only on the west coast of the North Island, and their current range extends from Taranaki to Dargaville. They are a subspecies of the South Island Hector’s dolphin; they share the same small size and distinctive rounded dorsal fins but are genetically distinct.

(1) You can download the Maui’s population abundance estimate from the Department of Conservation website here:

(2) Ministers’ media release available here:

For more information, please contact:
Rosa Argent, WWF-New Zealand Communications Manager, tel: 04 471 4292 / 027 212 3103

Jenny Riches WWF-New Zealand Marketing & Communications Manager, tel: 04 4714288 / 0274477158

The new population estimate released by the Govt in 2012 shows there is likely to be just 55 adult Maui's left. WWF has warned the species will soon be extinct like the moa if we don't get nets out of the water throughout the dolphins' range.
© Silvia Scarli Enlarge

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