New Zealand has been facing pressure from conservationists to save one of the rarest dolphins in the world from the threats they continue to face. Now, proposed oil and gas exploration in their habitat has renewed calls urging the government to get serious about protecting them.
The Maui’s dolphin, a distinct subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, can only be found off the west coast of the North Island where there are only an estimated 55 individuals over the age of one left in existence.
They’re listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and continue to struggle against some major threats, including commercial and recreational gillnet fishing and trawling, which have caused their numbers to drop dramatically and are believed to kill an average of five every year.
In 2008, a special sanctuary was set up for them, but it hasn’t been enough to help these little dolphins recover, and they still continue to face other threats that include pollution, boat strikes and a lack of genetic diversity.
Earlier this spring the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee released a report citing “extreme concern” for these dolphins and urged the government to boost protection for them by banning trawling in their habitat, warning that they could face imminent extinction in the next three decades if action isn’t taken.
Wildlife advocates and organizations have also been supporting calls for the government to do more and raising concerns that it’s doing as little as possible to protect them instead of as much as it can. In May, the World Wildlife Fund-New Zealand launched the Last 55 campaign to gain support for their protection.
“The government has been woefully inadequate at protecting Maui’s, despite overwhelming public support for action and strong recommendations from the world’s leading whale and dolphin scientists. It must act decisively,” said WWF-New Zealand’s Executive Director Chris Howe.
Now wildlife advocates and a number of politicians are questioning the government’s plan to allow oil and gas exploration in their habitat, with 3,000 square kilometers, or nearly 2,000 square miles, of the proposed area overlapping with the Maui’s dolphin sanctuary – which kind of undermines the point of having a designated sanctuary for them.
“The Government’s failure to fully protect Maui’s dolphins from net-fishing across their range is already putting them at risk of extinction, and this situation is made worse by opening up their habitat to seismic surveying and a greater chance of oil spills,” said WWF-Head of Campaigns Peter Hardstaff.
Nick Smith, New Zealand’s conservation minister, told the Guardian that the government is taking care to ensure they don’t disappear and that a “robust process” would ensure that other projects wouldn’t harm them, but dolphin advocates aren’t convinced.
Gareth Hughes, a Greens MP, raised concerns that seismic blasts would deafen them or drive them out of the sanctuary and urged the government to listen to the recommendations of scientific experts to do more to protect them.
Please sign and share the petition urging New Zealand to help protect Maui’s dolphins from extinction by shutting down oil and gas exploration in their habitat. Putting them in further harm’s way and raising the potential for disaster with so few left just so oil companies can profit isn’t going to help them survive.
Photo credit: Steve Dawson/NOAA