Rare Maui's dolphin numbers still dropping

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2012
IN DANGER: A Conservation Department report into the critically endangered Maui's dolphin has yet to be released, but the Sunday Star-Times understands it will show the population has declined to a devastating point.
THE DOMINION POST
IN DANGER: A Conservation Department report into the critically endangered Maui's dolphin has yet to be released, but the Sunday Star-Times understands it will show the population has declined to a devastating point.

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The world's rarest dolphin could be down to fewer than 80 individuals, with conservationists enraged after a female was killed last month.

A Conservation Department report into the critically endangered Maui's dolphin has yet to be released, but the Sunday Star-Times understands it will show the population has declined to a devastating point.

The study, undertaken with Auckland and Oregon Universities, should be released next month.

"It is make or break for the population now. If we don't act, we're going to have extinction on our hands," Forest and Bird advocate Katrina Subedar said. "Otherwise the dolphins don't have a hope."

Scientists now believe fewer than 100 of the dolphins remain. The last estimate showed 111 individuals but several have been found dead since then.

A Taranaki fisherman netted one, believed to be female, early in January, and last October a female washed up in Manukau Harbour.

Conservationists say the deaths of breeding females are the worst. "If the species is at 100 mammals, that makes 25 breeding females. But if it drops to 60, that's only 15 females. It makes it much, much worse," Otago University associate professor Liz Slooten said.

Scientists and conservationists say better fishing regulations are essential, and Slooten said hope was not lost because species like the kakapo had come back from worse. "But we need to act now."

German-based conservation organisation, Nabu International, said New Zealand should end gill and trawl net fishing, a position supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Forest and Bird.

Nabu spokeswoman Barbara Maas said the case needed more attention from Kiwis. "While many New Zealanders feel an affinity with the ocean, Maui's dolphins are overlooked."

The Seafood Industry Council said bans were a knee-jerk reaction, but fishermen would be more vigilant now it was possible dolphins were moving into new areas.

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