The world’s smallest and rarest dolphins endemic to New Zealand are facing ‘imminent’ extinction with just 55 individuals left (as little as 20 breeding females). Maui's dolphin is now the rarest in the world. They are a subspecies of Hector’s dolphin which is also endangered. There were around 1,000 in the 1970s before commercial fishing took off in the area. Marine biologist Dr Rochelle Constantine, who worked on the study, told the New Zealand Daily Herald: ‘We are staring down the barrel of extinction of this sub-species.’ A study in 2012, carried out by University of Auckland, Oregon State University and the New Zealand Department of Conservation - using DNA samples - found the number of dolphins aged more than a year had plummeted from 111 when the last survey was carried out in 2004. The Maui’s dolphins – which are classified as critically endangered: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/39427/0) have seen their numbers halve in the last seven years alone, as dozens have been caught in fishing nets.
Although part of the coast is protected from fishing, along most of it, trawling and vast fixed nets held in place by anchors have been blamed for killing the striking animals. Maui’s have a lifespan of around 20 years but only reach sexual maturity after around seven, and breed infrequently – around one calf every three years.
Dr Barbara Maas, a Cambridge University-trained zoologist who was not involved in the research, but has organised a petition to save the Maui’s that gathered 10,000 signatures, told the Mail: ‘To have just 55 of these wonderful creatures left is beyond even our worst estimates: http://youtu.be/5t6c7AikoGY. “Their extinction is really imminent now, within a few years. New Zealand is a civilised country, which markets itself as an unspoilt paradise. They must act before it is too late.” ~ Dr Barbara Maas (http://www.hectorsdolphins.com/)
It came just a month after a coalition of scientists and animal welfare groups came up with a dolphin ‘bill of rights’ they hoped would be enshrined in law. They believe the animals are so intelligent they should be thought of as ‘non-human persons’, allowing whalers to be classed as murderers, they told the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference in Vancouver.
Experts say it is still possible to save Maui’s by setting up a sanctuary and banning nets over a larger area of the coastline. The government has said it recognises the problem and will bring forward proposals at the end of May 2013.
However charities fear more delays could be devastating for the much-loved creatures. Their plight recalls that of the Baiji dolphin in China, which was once numerous and known as the ‘goddess’ of the Yangtze river. In 2006, an international group of marine scientists spent six week scouring the 1,700 mile river in search of the last survivor, as the population was decimated by fishing, transport and hydroelectric power on the river. They hoped to move it to safer waters and rebuild the population- but found nothing. It was declared extinct, the first marine mammal to be wiped out for more than 50 years and the first recorded disappearance of a cetacean species due to human activity, the scientists said.
Conservation groups have been calling for more protection of its habitat for more than 10 years, when a former Environment Minister of New Zealand accused fishermen – who must record any found dead in their nets – of lying about the scale of the problem. A spokeswoman for World Wildlife Fund said: ‘The Maui’s population has been declining since the 1970s, and protection measures introduced in 2008 have not succeeded in turning the situation around. It is a national tragedy that our critically endangered dolphins are still dying needlessly in fishing nets.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) agrees and urges New Zealand to ban the use of gill and trawl nets in waters of up to 100 metres deep in an urgent bid to save them.
The New Zealand government has been aware that Maui’s dolphins range far beyond the boundary of the sanctuary since 2009, but is refusing to act on its own research.
“The thing that disturbs me most is the fact that New Zealand was the only nation amongst 117 countries and 460 organisations to vote against these measures at the 2012 IUCN’s World Conservation Congress.” ~Wayne O’Brien
‘We need to act immediately to get nets out of the water, including harbours and estuaries, to protect these dolphins throughout their range.’
For more information visit:
Watch a great appeal video by William Trubridge that was used to promote the Maui’s issue in 2012: http://youtu.be/Z6aU0O57KJQ