Dolphin's disputed identity frustrates

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2012
Ray O'Donnell

Ray O'Donnell captured this video evidence of a Maui dolphin swimming around his boat just 1km off the Waitara coast in December 2009. The footage was taken on his cellphone.

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A mystery dolphin is causing trouble in Taranaki waters.

On January 2 a commercial fisherman found what he believed to be a dead hector's dolphin in his set net off Cape Egmont.

But the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry instead says it was more likely a maui dolphin, although no one from the ministry laid eyes on the creature.

The maui dolphin is one of the rarest dolphin species in the world with an estimated population of 100.

If it were a maui dolphin it would be the first to be caught in Taranaki waters in more than 10 years.

Following industry protocol the fisherman weighed and measured the marine mammal before throwing the carcass back into the ocean.

In March last year a MAF ban on set netting along the Taranaki coast to protect maui dolphins frustrated the region's commercial fishing industry. The ban prohibited set netting between 7.4km and 12.9km off much of the North Island's west coast.

The dolphin was caught outside the restricted zone.

Speculation from MAF that the catch was a maui dolphin has angered Taranaki fisheries industry spokesman Keith Mawson, who is skeptical maui dolphins even exist in these waters. "I get concerned when the ministry or any other body is stating that it's one species and not the other when there's no other evidence suggesting that," Mr Mawson said.

Mr Mawson, who owns Egmont Seafood, said the fisherman had never encountered a maui or hector's dolphin before and was devastated with the discovery.

The fisherman identified the dolphin as a female hector's dolphin, he said. "He stated that it was a hector's dolphin and now we've got the ministry coming back saying no it wasn't. That's a pretty frustrating situation. They've got nothing to prove it."

In a statement released yesterday MAF said it was more likely to be a maui dolphin because it was caught close to the current known range of maui dolphin.

But the incident occurred outside the current known range, MAF representative Scott Gallacher said.

Under the Marine Mammals Protection Act all mammals must be returned to the sea dead, alive or injured unless the Government has granted otherwise.

Mr Mawson said dolphins should be brought back to shore to determine the species and eliminate any uncertainty.

"If they're dead, maybe they should be bringing it in for more analysis,"he said.

It could also determine the dolphin's health, he said.

Maui dolphins are the world's smallest dolphinsand are found only on the North Island's west coast.

In January the Daily News revealed that experts were unsure whether the maui dolphins that visit Taranaki are actually hector's dolphins, a near identical species from the South Island with a population of more than 7000.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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