Since the introduction of nylon filament nets in the 1970s, Hector’s dolphin numbers have dropped from 30,000 to less than 7,000. The situation is even worse for Maui’s dolphins, the North Island subspecies of Hector’s dolphins. More than 90% are already lost. With just 55 animals over one years old and less than 20 breeding females, Maui's dolphins are facing imminent extinction.
Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins breed very slowly. Even under ideal circumstances a population of 100 individuals can only grow by two animals a year at the most. Saving this species is a race against time that can only be won if fishing-related mortality is prevented. New protection measures introduced in 2008 were a significant step in the right direction, but still fall way short of what is needed to facilitate population recovery and avoid extinction.
Marine biologists and conservationists, including NABU International, have called for a New Zealand-wide ban on gillnets, and for the careful management of other threats, such as pollution, marine mining, tidal power stations in prime dolphin habitat, aquaculture and others.
Hector’s dolphins continue to decline because protection measures are inadequate. Unless things change, the species will become extinct. But in the absence of fisheries bycatch, Hector’s dolphins could recover to 15,000 within a few decades.
For over 25 years Hector’s dolphin protection has been marred by unsuccessful half measures, lack of political will, delays, reluctance to translate the best available scientific knowledge into effective management decisions, and an unhealthy reliance on information from New Zealand’s fishing industry. Read more
Listen to NABU International's Head of International Species Conservation talk about the threat of a massive tidal power station in key habitat of the the last few Maui's dolphins.