One of the Smallest and Rarest Dolphins Could Become Extinct if New Zealand Doesn’t Take Action

New Zealand’s government is being called on yet again to take immediate action to protect one of the smallest and rarest dolphins on earth before it’s too late to save them from disappearing forever.

The Maui’s dolphin at the center of calls to act is a subspecies of the increasingly rare Hector’s dolphin, who can only be found on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Both were once abundant, but today, Maui’s dolphins are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and there are believed to be fewer than 55 individuals left in existence.

While a number of factors have played into their decline, the most damage has been caused by entanglement in commercial and recreational gillnets. Because females can take up to nine years to reach sexual maturity and only produce one calf every few years, just ensuring they at least hold steady, never mind increase in numbers, is going to take time and serious conservation efforts.

Over the years conservationists have continued to call on the government to take meaningful steps to protect these dolphins from human-caused deaths, but they’ve continued to slide closer and closer to the brink.

The government has taken some steps including controlling activities related to tourism, establishing a marine mammal sanctuary and restricting areas for gillnetting and trawling, but it clearly hasn’t been enough. Advocates for these dolphins have been critical of the lack of political will to get anything done and continue to stress the need for further restrictions on fishing nets in dolphin habitat.

Now a scientific committee for the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is back adding to the calls for action to ensure the survival of Maui’s dolphins. While the committee commended the government for continuing to research the issue, it also noted that current measures to stop bycatch still fall far short of what has previously been recommended the past few years to protect these dolphins and that no further management changes have been made since 2013.

The committee summed up the seriousness of the risks of not doing anything, stating “The human-caused death of even one individual will increase the extinction risk.”

“The conclusions of this international science panel are clear; more incremental steps and more research are not good enough. We need action to fully protect Māui dolphins across their entire range. The government should do the maximum possible, rather than the minimum it can get away with,” said Peter Hardstaff, WWF-New Zealand’s Head of Campaigns.

The commission urged the government to take steps now to protect these dolphins and restated a previous recommendation to make them the highest priority when it comes to management decisions. It is also urging the government  to commit to a population target and timeline for reaching it, in addition to recommending fisheries within their range be closed.

“The science is clear, if nothing is done then the Maui’s dolphin is gone,” Dr. Barbara Maas, an endangered species specialist with conservation group NABU International, told the AFP. “What’s needed is action, not more research. This is a huge indictment on New Zealand.”

Now it just remains to be seen whether the government will listen, or just continue dragging its feet until it’s too late to do anything but watch these dolphins disappear one by one.


Please sign and share the petition urging officials in New Zealand to put the survival of these beloved dolphins over the profits of industries that continue to put them in jeopardy by banning gillnets and trawling throughout their entire range.

Photo credit: Steve Dawson/NABU International


Clare O
Clare O11 months ago

Help save the dolphins

Clare O
Clare O11 months ago

Dreadful situation. NZ is very environmentally aware these days.

hELEN h12 months ago


Marija M
Marija M12 months ago

Please, New Zealand, help them.

Cindy S
Cindy Smith12 months ago


Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A12 months ago

An updated post telling us what is currently happening with the dolphins would be nice.

Chrissie R
Chrissie R12 months ago

Thank you for posting this concerning article.

Danuta W
Danuta W12 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Sue H
Sue H12 months ago

I sure hope that the New Zealand government has changed positions on this issue.

Ruth S
Ruth S12 months ago

Thanks. So since this is 2 yrs. old, I'd like an updated post.