Hector’s dolphins live only in the waters of New Zealand and have experienced a huge decline over the last several decades due to techniques used by the fishing industry, which cause them to die. Thirty to forty years ago there may have been 30,000 but now there are just 7,000. A subspecies of Hector’s dolphin (the Maui) is down to just about 100. The number of Maui females is estimated to be twenty five, which means there might not be enough to reproduce and grow the population.
Gillnetting and trawling are the two fishing activities mainly responsible for decreasing the dolphin population. Each year dolphins are drowned in gillnets. At the current rate, a very significant number of dolphins will be lost – enough to push the whole group to the brink of extinction. “Our research shows that each year 23 Hector’s dolphins drown in commercial gillnets off the east coast of the South Island. The sustainable limit for this area is about one dolphin a year. This level of bycatch will deplete the population by least a further 14% by 2050,” said one of the researchers. (Source: Fishupdate.com)
The New Zealand fishing lobby has resisted policies restricting the damaging gillnet and trawling methods, even though these policies could help keep the dolphins alive, and wouldn’t harm fisherman’s take much at all.
Hector’s dolphins are one of the smallest cetaceans, just about 4-5 feet long and live in an isolated area of the world. Most people probably haven’t heard of them, and wouldn’t know how low their numbers are, or even if they had been driven into extinction by humans. What you can do is not purchase seafood from New Zealand, not travel there for recreation, and write emails to the following officials:
Ministry of the Environment
Ministry of Tourism
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Department of Conservation, Southland Conservancy
Image Credit: James Shook