Dolphin numbers perilously low

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 13:32 19/05/2014
Maui dolphins
University of Auckland

HELP NEEDED: Only 55 adult Maui dolphins remain.

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Global conservation organisation WWF is appealing to politicians to do more to help save the world's most endangered dolphin.
 
WWF has launched The Last 55 campaign today in a bid to save Maui's dolphin.
 
WWF New Zealand executive director Chris Howe said the Maui's dolphin were on the brink of extinction, with only 55 adults left.
 
The dolphins only existed on New Zealand's west coast and 95.5 per cent of deaths were due to fishing.
 
At the moment only half of the dolphins' habitat was protected from set-netting and trawling, Howe said.
 
WWF was calling on the government to put in place measures to protect the dolphins' entire habitat from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui river mouth from fishing practices known to kill them, he said.
 
Protecting half the habitat did not mean half the dolphins would be saved, Howe said.
 
If nothing was done the species would be extinct within the next 40 years, based on the rate of breeding.
 
Howe said the government should provide fishers with support to help them transition to dolphin-friendly practices.
 
"Fishing communities should not have to bear the cost of saving this precious dolphin alone."
 
WWF hoped to present political leaders with a petition with at least 55,000 signatures before September's election.
 
"We hope The last 55 campaign will cut through this lack of political commitment to this issue."
 
Saving the Maui's dolphin was also the right thing to do for New Zealand's reputation on the world stage, he said.
 
WWF New Zealand marine species advocate Milena Palka said there was increasing international awareness of the issue.
 
If the dolphin did go extinct it would have a negative impact on New Zealand's tourism industry, which traded off the country's clean, green, wildlife-friendly image.
 
Palka said ideally the dolphins' habitat would be protected from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui river mouth, including harbours, and ranging out 20 nautical miles offshore.
 
In 2006 the Chinese river dolphin the Baiji went extinct, she said.
 
"That's not a prize we want to win. We don't want second place."
 
The Vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California was in a similar situation as Maui's dolphin, with less than 200 left, she said.
 
The Mexican Government had taken steps to protect the species and provide support and compensation to fishers in the area.
 
A WWF pole found 77 per cent of Kiwis wanted more protection for Maui's dolphin and 62 per cent wanted to help support fishers through the transition to dolphin-friendly practices such as long lines, trolling and fish traps, Palka said.
 
New Zealand author Witi Ihimaera said as the author of The Whale Rider it was obvious he would support the survival of cetacean species.
 
As the species only existed in New Zealand it was "our responsibility before it's anyone else's" to save Maui's dolphins.
 
Kiwi singer-songwriter Jamie McDell sang her song about Maui's dolphins Without a Voice at the campaign launch.
 
McDell, who grew up around the ocean and marine mammals, said she had always been passionate about marine wildlife conservation.
 
The campaign also included a social media element that showed what it would be like to lose all but 55 friends through a Facebook app.

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