Fisherman now a Maui believer

21:13, Oct 21 2010
TDN Ray
Until Waitara's Ray O'Donnell recorded footage of a Maui dolphin swimming around his boat last year he was sceptical of their existence.

Ray O'Donnell belongs to an exclusive club. The Waitara man is one of the few people in the world to have seen a live Maui dolphin.

His video footage of one swimming around his boat one kilometre off the Waiongona rivermouth last year is the most recent evidence they exist in Taranaki waters.

The footage is fodder to those who support extending the coastal set net ban from 7km to 13km to protect the species and damning evidence against those who deny Mauis live along the Taranaki coast.

"It was so friendly. It was unbelievable. I was always a disbeliever because I have fished here for 40 years and never seen one. It was so small you could have picked it up out of the water," Mr O'Donnell said.

For 10 minutes the dolphin swam around the boat and using his mobile phone Mr O'Donnell captured about 30 seconds of video footage of the rare animal.

Without the footage he would not have gone public with the sighting for fear of being labelled a crackpot, he said.

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As it is, his new stance against set netting in Taranaki coastal waters means fewer fish on his dinner plate and puts him out of step with his mates who continue the practice.

Mr O'Donnell said he knew of an incident in which a Maui dolphin was killed in a set net, but that was more than 10 years ago. There have been no reports of  Maui's dolphin being  caught in commercial gill nets in Taranaki waters since set net restrictions were put in place.  

"My mates out there on the water, we have the odd bit of friendly banter. They say they hope I am going to buy their gill nets from them. I say, yeah, I will give you 10 cents a metre."

The Ministry of Fisheries received close to 1000 submissions on new measures to manage fishing-related threats to Maui and Hector dolphins in New Zealand coastal waters. The ministry previously indicated it favoured extending the set net ban along the north Taranaki coast to seven nautical miles (13km).

Taranaki Daily News