The world’s most endangered dolphins are sliding towards extinction in the face of damaging fishing methods, experts are warning.
Hector’s dolphins are found only around New Zealand, where the population has fallen from 30,000 to around 7,000 since nylon fishing nets came into use in the 1970s.
Maui’s Dolphins Down To Fewer Than 100
The country’s North Island population, a subspecies known as Maui’s dolphins, is down to fewer than 100 mammals, according to Dr Barbara Maas, head of endangered species conservation for German environmental group NABU International – Foundation for Nature.
Yet again, the fault lies with commercial fishing gear known as gillnets, which create a wall of netting to catch fish. Many environmentalists and fishermen have protested the use of gillnets, since these nets also catch many non-targeted species, including sea birds, sea turtles and numerous kinds of fish. Once caught up the gillnets, these unwanted creatures, known as “by-catch” are killed and simply dumped overboard.
Gillnets To Blame For Dolphin Deaths
Now, research by Dr Liz Slooten, from Otago University in New Zealand, suggests that gillnets are drowning 23 Hector’s dolphins a year on the east coast of the South Island.
As first reported in The Guardian, she said the sustainable limit for the area was about one dolphin a year, and at the levels currently seen, the population would fall by at least a further 14 percent by 2050.
Trawl nets, which are pulled through the water from boats, are likely to kill as many endangered Hector’s dolphins as commercial gillnets, bringing the number of deaths due to fisheries to 46 along the east coast, warns Dr. Maas.
Only A Scattering Of Dolphins Will Survive
From The Guardian:
“An annual loss of this size will wipe out 62% of the population by 2050. Only a scattering of animals will survive, potentially pushing the population beyond the point of no return.”
She said that “absolute protection against commercial and recreational gill-netting and trawling is the only way to prevent their demise”.
Dr Maas, who is speaking at the international marine conference organised by the Universities of Aberdeen and St Andrews, is urging the New Zealand government not to bow to industry pressure and to ban the fishing methods in waters up to 100m deep to save the species.
Get Rid Of The Gillnets
She suggests more selective fishing methods, such as hook and line fishing or fish traps, which do not catch dolphins, could be used instead.
Is anybody listening?
Photo Credit: benzpics63