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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 Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins to near extinction and is killing them faster than they can breed.

Since the introduction of nylon filament nets in the 1970s, Hector’s dolphin numbers have dropped from 29,000 to less than 7,000. The situation for Maui’s dolphins, a subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, is even worse. More than 90% are already lost. With just 55 survivors older than one year 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. For more than a decade, marine biologists and conservationists 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. In the absence of fisheries bycatch, Hector’s dolphins could recover to at least half of their original population size within decades.

Let's see if we can reach 18000 signatures - that's more than one for each dolphin that could be alive within a matter of decades if nets didn't kill them.

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Thank you for your support for these animals, who are in so much trouble!

Letter to
Prime Minister of New Zealand Rt Hon John Key
Minister of Conservation, New Zealand Hon Kate Wilkinson
Minister of Primary Industries, New Zealand Hon David Carter
I am writing to express my deep concerns over the lack of effective measures to arrest the continued decline of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.

Without a firm commitment and the political will to eliminate active fishing threats and the prevention of new hazards such as emerging coastal developments in the species’ habitat, Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins will continue to move ever closer to extinction.

New Zealand prides itself on its environmental credentials and has been a longstanding and outspoken advocate for the protection of cetaceans at the International Whaling Commission. Your country holds this unique marine species in trust for the rest of the world. I therefore urge you to bring your efforts to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins in line with New Zealand’s enduring dedication towards the conservation of terrestrial species, such as the Kiwi, the Kea and the Kakapo.

Hector’s dolphins are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation, reproduce very slowly, will be affected by the loss of extremely small numbers of individuals, and are subject to continued overall decline.

Over the past 25 years, Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin protection has been marred by unsuccessful half measures, lack of political will, delays, the unwillingness to translate the best available scientific knowledge into effective management decisions, and an unhealthy reliance on information from New Zealand’s fishing industry. As a result, policies and management actions consistently fell short of what is required to bring about recovery.

Adopting management options that favour fishing industry-friendly compromises over effective, science-based protection measures have neither served your government, nor the dolphins well in the past. Recently, two cases of fisheries-related dolphin bycatch (one off Kaikoura and one off Timaru) occurred because of industry pressure against warnings by Hector’s dolphin experts and conservationist. The same is true for a recent Maui's dolphin fatality. off the coast of Taranaki. Yet these areas remain unprotected,and the dolphins remain at risk.

The Fisheries Act 1996 expressly stipulates that protected species “should be maintained above a level that ensures their long-term viability”. Similarly, the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1996 stipulates that threatened species need to become non-threatened as soon as practicable and in any case within 20 years. Yet after more than two decades, Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins continue on their path to extinction. Even on the East Coast of the South Island, one of the species’ strongholds, Hector’s dolphin bycatch exceeds sustainable levels (PBR) about 23 times.

A comprehensive assessment of fisheries interactions across the full range of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins is urgently needed to address the lack of bycatch reporting by unobserved fishing vessels and to obtain reliable catch rates. Failure to do so will compromise the upcoming review of the Threat Management Plan from the start.

I therefore ask your government to avoid, remedy or mitigate the currently unsustainable effects of fishing on Hector’s dolphins as a matter of urgency by:

• centring management decisions and policies on the best available independent scientific information;
• developing objective, science-based, measurable and testable management targets for the recovery of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin;
• developing a science-based Recovery Plan with the input of all stakeholders;
• fast-tracking full protection measures for Hector’s dolphins against fisheries bycatch off Kaikoura, Timaru and Taranaki to avoid further avoidable deaths;
• eliminating the use of commercial and recreational set nets and trawling across the species’ range along a 100m depth contour without exception;
• implementing a comprehensive, scientifically sound fisheries observer programme that includes all four Hector’s dolphin populations to inform management of fishing impacts on Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins by identifying and quantifying interactions and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures;
• changing the reporting of unresolved Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin deaths as ‘natural death’ in the Department of Conservation’s Incidence Database.

The conservation of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins is one of the greatest extinction challenges of our time and rests in your hands. If the progressive erosion of already insufficient protection measures is allowed to continue, the outcome is as inevitable as it will be tragic. Maui’s dolphin numbers have now dropped below 100 individuals and Hector’s dolphins as a whole are still in decline – solid grounds to trigger uncompromising protection. Provided the right decisions are made, recovery is within your grasp.

Best regards,

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