Experts sound the alarm as Maui's dolphin numbers drop below 50
Numbers of the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphin have hit an all time low of 43-47 individuals, including just 10-12 adult females. The future New Zealand’s critically endangered Maui's dolphin will form part of the discussions held by 200 of the world’s leading cetacean scientists who are gathering in San Diego for the annual meeting of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.
NABU International's Head of Endangered Species Conservation and leading Maui's dolphin expert, Prof Liz Slooten, will present the latest population figures and are warning that unless the level of fisheries protection is increased significantly, Maui’s dolphins could become extinct in 15 years.
Maui's dolphins are a subspecies of Hector's dolphins and occur exclusively in shallow coastal waters up to depth of 100 waters meters off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
Maui's dolphin numbers have dropped by some 97 percent as a result of fishing since the 1970s. By 2004, there were 111, and by 2010/11 the population had reached just 59. Because protection from gillnets extends over less than 20 percent of Maui’s dolphin habitat and less than five percent for trawling, dolphins continue to die in fishing nets as bycatch. An upsurge of seismic surveys and fossil fuel extraction in or near the dolphins’ home further increase the risks for this already small and declining population. The absence of manmade deaths would set
Maui’s dolphins back on the road to recovery and allow numbers to grow to 500 individuals in 87 years.
New Zealand has so far shirked its responsibility to protect the last Maui’s dolphins. For three years running, IWC scientists have urged the New Zealand government to ban the use of gillnets and trawling across their entire habitat. But New Zealand has stubbornly ignored the scientists and is selling out this rare species for shortsighted economic reasons.
Because Maui's dolphins can only cope with one human-induced death every 10-20 years, immediate conservation measures are urgently required. These new figures are an unmistakable wakeup call: New Zealand has to stop placing the interests of the fishing industry above biodiversity conservation and finally protect the dolphins’ habitat from harmful fishing nets, seismic airgun blasts and oil and gas extraction. Unless this happens, Maui’s dolphin extinction is a matter of when, not if. But instead of taking action, the New Zealand government is celebrating the extension of gillnet restrictions by three percent back in 2012/13 as a conservation victory, although this merely delays the dolphins’ demise by a handful of years. The futile five-year research programme tabled by New Zealand at this year’s IWC Scientific Committee meeting is a further attempt to muddy the waters and play for time, which Maui’s dolphins can’t afford.
WATCH MAUI'S DOLPHINS BEING DISCUSSED ON BBC WORLD NEWS
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International Whaling Commission scientists rebuke New Zealand over Maui's dolphins
For the third year in a row, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC SC) deliberated on the urgent need to protect New Zealand’s Critically Endangered Maui’s dolphins. Decimated by gillnetting and trawling, Maui’s dolphin numbers have dropped from almost 2,000 in the 1970s to just 50 individuals.
In its new recommendation the IWC SC emphasized that current protection measures fall significantly short of recommendations made by the IWC in 2012, 2013 and reiterated its extreme concern about the ongoing decline of this tiny population. The Committee repeated that the death of even one individual increases the extinction risk for Maui’s dolphins. Because all the scientific information needed to put in place effective protection measures is already available, no further scientific research on Maui’s dolphins should be carried out.
Instead, the New Zealand government should eliminate all bycatch of Maui’s dolphins immediately by banning gillnet and trawl fisheries from the dolphins’ habitat to an offshore distance of 20 nautical miles from Maunganui Bluff to Whanganui - the nearest equivalent to the 100 metre water depth inhabited by Maui’s dolphins (see map).
The IWC Scientific Committee endorsed the science that shows that the dolphins range to the 100 metre depth contour. Both Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins have been seen in waters deeper than 100 m, but most of the sightings are in waters less than 100 m deep. “The NZ government strongly prefer a protected area boundary based on a distance from shore, because that makes policing the regulations easier,” says dolphin expert Dr Liz Slooten, who attended the meeting. “Therefore, the Committee agreed to an offshore boundary of 20 nautical miles. This includes about 86% of Maui’s dolphin habitat - the absolute minimum that’s needed to avoid the extinction of Maui’s dolphins. Two very small extensions to fisheries protection zones that were put in place in 2012 and 2013, have reduced Maui’s dolphin deaths in fishing gear from about 5 per year to 3-4 per year”, says dolphin expert Dr Liz Slooten, who presented her results to the IWC Scientific Committee. “The sustainable level is less than one dolphin every 10 – 23 years. We really need to get this death toll down immediately.”
For the second year running the IWC Scientific Committee stressed that the inherent and irresolvable uncertainty about the exact distribution and other population parameters of such small population necessitate precautionary protection measures, which include an ample buffer zone. To ensure that the New Zealand will not ignore the IWC’s advice again, the Committee asked the government to set specificrecovery targets with timelines for Maui's dolphins. In addition New Zealand will have to report back to the IWC each year until the problem has been solved. NABU International’s projections show that if New Zealand ignores the IWC scientists’ advice, Maui’s dolphins could be gone as early as 2031.
Scientists around the world are incredulous that New Zealand should have ignored the overwhelming case to fully protect Maui’s dolphin habitat so any further avoidable deaths are indeed avoided. It’s a shame that a country that enjoyed international respect and admiration for standing up for whale and dolphin conservation should have this enormous fishy blind spot when it comes to protecting its own and only native dolphins. It’s the end of a love affair with New Zealand for many – including the scientific community.
Every relevant international scientific body including the IWC, the IUCN and the Society for Marine Mammalogy agree on what is required to save Maui's dolphins from extinction. The New Zealand government and the country's fishing claim, they know better. Even now the umbrella body for New Zealands fishing industry, Seafood New Zealand, declares on its website that “The number of Maui’s dolphins is very low, but the factual information does not support the statement that fishing is the, or even a, major cause of population decline.” It’s high time to stop playing politics and get serious about saving the last 50 Maui’s dolphins. Throwing them to the wolves won’t serve New Zealand's government, its fishing industry, its people or its international reputation.
NABU International has advocated the measures recommended by the IWC Scientific Committee for many years. We therefore welcome the strong and unambiguous language used in this year’s IWC SC recommendation. The solution is simple and could be implemented immediately with the stroke of a pen. Affected fishermen could be transitioned to sustainable fishing methods that don’t kill dolphins or other marine mammals and birds or are helped to move towards alternative sources of employment. All that's lacking is the political will.
On World Oceans Day, 8th May, NABU International hosted an international tweetstorm, in which people from across the globe sent almost 24,000 tweets about the need to save the last 50 Maui’s dolphins in a single day. Our petition now stands at over 35,000 signatures.
We will leave no stone unturned to save Maui’s dolphins and with your help and support we can do it!
Read the International Whaling Commission's Scientintific Committee recommendation below
Maui's dolphins extinct by 2030: world's marine mammal scientists urge immediate action
Under current protection levels, Maui’s dolphins will become practically extinct by 2030 as a result of fishing.
In a letter to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) urges the government to ban gillnets and trawling in Maui’s dolphin habitat immediately to avoid their extinction. With a membership of some 2,000 scientists from 60 countries, the SMM is the world's largest professional body dedicated to research on marine mammals and the ecosystems that support them. The letter highlights that fishing nets alone kill about nine percent of an estimated population of 55 individuals over one year of age, which will render Maui’s dolphins virtually extinct in less than 20 years. Read more
Over 75 leading environmental and animal protection groups and businesses, including NABU International have committed to Save the Whales: Reloaded, a new global alliance will identify and work together to protect whales and dolphins in areas where they most need help. Twenty two conservation groups and businesses from around the world have joined NABU International in a collective bid to save the Maui and Hector’s dolphins as part of the Save the Whales: Reloaded campaign. Read more
New Zealand fails international conservation obligations under the Convention of Biological Diversity
Indian school children find out about Maui's dolphins.
While local and international experts agree that fishing is the number one threat that is driving the extinction of Maui's dolphins, the New Zealand government alone maintains that "There is not enough evidence to pinpoint the exact reasons for the decline in the population."
New Zealand is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is currently meeting in Hyderabad, India. NABU International’s latest report highlights the incompatibility between New Zealand’s chronic lack of effective, science-based conservation measures for Maui’s dolphins and its obligations under the Convention's strategic objectives for 2011 to 2020. Read more ...
The End of 100% Pure New Zealand
CLICK image to enlarge.
Set netting (commercial and recreational) and trawling have decimated the country's endemic Maui’s dolphins from around 1,000 to less than 55 adults - that’s less than 20 breeding females. Yet the NZ government continues to drag its heals, ignores the science and gives credence to outlandish and misleading claims by the fishing industry, which denies responsibility for the animals' demise.
New Zealand’s reputation as an environmentally responsible nation is crumbling. As more Maui’s dolphins die, New Zealand's iconic fern is wilting. We need strong international support if we are to stand a chance of saving this species and avoid the first man-made extinction of a marine cetacean - something even the whalers didn’t quite manage. Read more
How the Law Lets Down the ‘Down-Under Dolphin’ and How to Fix It
A New Zealand lawyer speaks out
New Zealand shames itself in front of the world
The New Zealand government has exposed its anti-conservation stance in the most spectacular way. At the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress, New Zealand was the only nation to cast a vote against a motion in favour of better protection of the last 55 or so Maui's dolphins and their endangered cousins, the Hector's dolphin. With about 6000 daily participants, the meeting is the world’s largest conservation event and brings together professionals and governments to discuss the environment. The IUCN's demands perfectly match those of our turn the red sea green campaign, confirming once again the legitimacy of what we have been asking the government to do. Read more
New Zealand tried to deflect these criticisms by pointing towards a recent extension of the protected area for Maui’s dolphins. Yet New Zealand failed to mention that these measures are merely temporary, don’t include trawl fishing and do not apply to most of the dolphins’ habitat. They therefore fall short of the IWC’s directions and will not prevent the dolphins’ extinction. Read more
Would you give up seafood from New Zealand to save Maui's and Hector's dolphins?
Hector's dolphins and their close relative the Maui’s dolphin live only in New Zealand and are both the smallest and rarest marine dolphins on earth. Entanglement in gill and trawl nets has devastated them to near extinction. Unless things change, they will disappear forever.
Since he 1970s, Hector’s dolphin populations have dropped by more than 75% from 30,000 to just over 7,000. The situation is even worse for Maui’s dolphins, their North Island subspecies. With just some 55 animals and around 20 breeding females left, Maui's dolphins are facing imminent extinction.
Saving this species is a race against time that can only be won if the threat of fishing is removed from the dolphins’ habitat. But industry bodies have forcefully opposed every effort to protect these animals and even took the government to court on several occasions in an attempt to overturn protection measures.
Both the Conservation and Primary Industries ministers said they are not implementing immediate protection measures because they fear being sued by the industry. No one wants this. But no one should be allowed to intimidate a government into allowing a species to be wiped out. There are a mere 55 Maui's dolphins left. All other avenues have been explored. This would be the very last resort to persuade the industry that this is not o.k.
2 May 2012
Tens of Thousands Petition New Zealand Government over World's Rarest Dolphin
Today representatives from NABU International and Avaaz stand united in delivering tens of thousands of signatures in support of effective protection for Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins to Parliament. The petition reached a fantastic total of 18,571, which together with Avaazes tally brings us to ten of thousands of concerned citizens who care about the dolphins' future.
Labour Deputy Leader and environment spokesperson Grant Robertson and Green Party MP and oceans spokesperson Gareth Hughes will receive the petitions. Mr Hughes will subsequently raise the matter in Parliament. Read more
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3 April 2012
Conservation Groups Call for Immediate Action to Save New Zealand’s Imperilled Dolphins
Prime Minister Key Asked to Act Urgently
Over a dozen non-governmental organizations have requested that Prime Minister John Key take immediate action to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins in a letter hand-delivered to him today.
Among the NGOs imploring the government to act are organizations which are part of the Whales Need US coalition – a collection of US-based organizations that are dedicated to cetacean protection. Though typically, focused on US issues, WNUS has joined forces with NABU International, Earth Race Conservation, and other New Zealand conservation organizations seeking protection for New Zealand’s imperilled dolphins. Read more ...
27 March 2012
New Research points the way to saving Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins
New research proves the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas as an conservation tool to protect marine mammals against fisheries bycatch. Yet, Hector's dolphins, the species studied to provide this landmark result, continues to decline due to lack of protection. Read more ...
13th March 2012
Online Petition reaches 10000 signatures
Today we have reached a massive milestone. 10,000 people from around the world have raised their hand for Hector's and Maui's dolphins. A sea change will come if we continue to rally support for the world's smallest dolphin. They are no longer alone! A big thank you to each and every one for getting us this far. Let's keep going and growing for 'our' dolphins!
13th March 2012
New Estimate puts Maui's dolphin population at just 55 individuals
New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) announced today that the number of Maui's dolphins above the age of one has reached an all time low between 48-69 individuals, with a mostly likely point estimate of 55.
The report is the result of a study conducted by DOC in collaboration with the University of Auckland and Oregon State University between March in 2010 and 2011. In a novel approach, the researchers used the animals' genetic profile to calculate the new abundance estimate. Read what to make of it all or check out DOC's full report.
11th March 2012
8th March 2012
Fifteen times freediving world record holder William Trubridge calls for better protection of the world’s rarest marine dolphin.
To launch his new role as worldwide Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin ambassador Mr Trubridge recorded a unique under water video message at his winter training ground in the Bahamas. Facing the camera without breathing equipment, he urges everyone to do their bit to save this troubled species by signing a petition to the New Zealand government and by joining the Facebook group Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin SOS. William also asks people not to buy fish caught using nets that harm the species, and to think twice about visiting New Zealand until the government acts to protect them. Read more