Drowned Maui and Hector's Dolphins Caught in Fishing Nets


Dolphins and set nets - a fatal combination. One family wiped out in minutes. An entire sub-species in about 30 years. Shame on New Zealand. I hope you enjoy your fish & chips because the fish comes from catching everything in the nets’ path, including the world’s smallest, rarest and loveliest dolphin.

New Zealand is blessed with a large and accessible marine environment. Most of us live in and love the water. We have high marine biodiversity including almost half the world’s whale and dolphin species. But we trash the ocean, and we’re damning its inhabitants.

To our shame New Zealand’s waters are home to the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphins, Hector’s & Maui’s dolphins. These are also the loveliest of them all. Up until the 1970s and the introduction of monofilament nets, there were an estimated 30,000 Hector’s & Maui’s dolphins found around most of New Zealand’s coast. Now there are about 7000 Hector’s in a few hotspots around the South Island, and about 55 adult Maui’s concentrated on the North Island’s West Coast. Their populations are shrinking due mainly to gillnet and trawling entrapment. Like with many other species, set nets catch dolphins as by-catch, they drown and die.

Because Hector’s & Maui’s live close to shore (and can often be seen from land) they are especially vulnerable to human impacts. Even though their biggest threats are from indiscriminate fishing practices; tidal turbines, seabed mining, sonar testing, boat strike and pollution also threaten their habitat and survival.

Because of the perilous state of these dolphins, and also because there have been plenty of dead dolphins to study, we now know a huge amount about Hector’s & Maui’s dolphins. We know they’re slow breeders, at a 2% increase, at best, per annum. We know they live to only about 20 years old, breed from the age of about 5, and only about once every five years. They swim closest to shore in summer and out to the 100m depth contour in winter. Because their habitat and populations have shrunk so dramatically over the last 30 years, their populations and genetic diversity have also shrunk. We know for a fact that they cannot sustain a single human induced death if they are to survive as a species.

That’s why these beautiful, intelligent, social little dolphins need your help. Only more protection from indiscriminate fishing practices will give this dolphin the time it needs to recover. Most civilised countries do not tolerate set nets. We will be shamed as a nation if we allow these dolphins to become extinct. The world is watching. For New Zealand to allow this little dolphin to become extinct will be immoral and indefensible.

There are 70,000 kiwis and great efforts to save them. Hector’s & Maui’s dolphins are as kiwi as the kiwi, but more rare. We must do more by the dolphins.

We can not let this dolphin die. Love our blessed waters, don’t damn a species.

By Christine Rose