New Zealand Pressured to Save World’s Rarest Dolphins

One of the smallest, and rarest, marine mammals in the world, Hector’s dolphins, are found only in the shallow coastal waters off of New Zealand, but they continue to face threats that have conservationists worried they may not survive.

There are two subspecies of these dolphins, which are genetically distinct from each other: the South Island Hector’s dolphins, who can be found off of New Zealand’s South Island and the Maui’s dolphin, who can 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.

The Maui’s dolphin is listed as critically endangered and continues to struggle against its biggest threats — commercial and recreational gillnet fishing and trawling, but they also face threats from pollution, boat strikes, a lack of genetic diversity and seismic testing.

Some actions have been taken by the government, including the establishment of the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary in 1988 and restricting gillnetting and trawling in part of the dolphins’ habitat last year, but it hasn’t been enough.

“Time is of the essence, with populations this low, numbers can drop off very rapidly,” Greenpeace campaigner Karli Thomas told the AFP. “We’re worried the government is delaying to the point of no return for Maui’s dolphins. Just waiting for them to drop off the agenda because they’re extinct is not solving the problem, that’s the loss of a species from the planet.”

The government’s efforts have also not met a call from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for an immediate ban on these harmful activities to ensure their survival. According to the New Zealand Herald, the government instead called for submissions for a management plan and said it would assess the risks dolphins face and the impact of a ban on the local fishing community. Submissions were closed in November, but nothing else has been done.

Fishermen claim they’re being scapegoated for the problems these dolphins face and blame the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, but according to Liz Slooten, an associate professor of zoology at Otago University, the government estimates that five dolphins are killed annually as bycatch, reports the AFP.

Five sounds like a small number, but to put it into perspective, according to the Nature Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, the population can only only absorb one human-induced death every 10-23 years because they mature and reproduce so slowly.

Conservationists want to see harmful activities stopped immediately, along with expanded habitat protection and the establishment of safe corridors between the North and South Island. The IWC is currently meeting in Jeju, South Korea to discuss their future, among other issues. Hopefully, New Zealand will take immediate action to keep Maui’s dolphins from disappearing forever.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Roberto MARINI
Roberto MARINI2 years ago

very interesting post, thank you.

David V.
David V4 years ago

another species that will soon become extinct because of HUMANS.

Sue H.
.4 years ago

signed, pity it looks like they will become extinct though

Carrie-Anne Brown

signed and shared, thanks for sharing :)

Fiona Stonehouse
Fiona Stonehouse4 years ago

Thanks for bringing awareness to more people. I think Ron G summed it up for me.
Christina C - NZ is not governed by Australia, we have our own corrupt and inefficient government.

Christina Carlson

@ Liliana - The lack of genetic diversity means the gene pool is too small. This species has been inbreeding too much, which carries on the lines but ultimately weakens chances of survival. A larger population offers more diverse mating for the dolphins and allows more opportunity for genetic adaptation geared towards survival of the species. Isolating these dolphins may not be for the best - especially in captivity. The very best thing for these dolphins would be preservation and protection of their familiar habitat.

Signed and hopeful the Australian government will take a stronger stand against oil companies exploiting a very unique and beautiful ecosystem.

Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago

Shame on this country if it does nothing to save them, petition signed and shared!

Christine Daniels


Richard Hancock
Richard Hancock4 years ago


christine robertson

With all the information that we know about how much danger the planet and its occupants are in why is it necessary for people that are on sites such as this have to fight the rest of the world?