It is our rarest dolphin, internationally listed as 'critically endangered', meaning there's a high risk of it becoming extinct in the near future. This year, a study estimated the Maui's dolphin population at just 55: that's individuals aged more than one year (i.e. excluding calves of under a year). A previous survey carried out in 2005 put the number at 111.
Maui's dolphins have distinctive grey, white and black markings, a short snout and a well-rounded black dorsal fin. Females grow to 1.7m and weigh up to 50 kg, males slightly smaller and lighter. The dolphins are known to live up to 20 years. Females are not sexually mature until 7-9yrs. They produce just one calf every 2-4yrs, making population growth very slow. A population of 55 adults means just over 20 breeding females survive!
Living near the coast, often in water less than 20m deep, Maui's dolphins occasionally venture into harbours, and a significant number have died after being entangled in set nets. This has prompted a series of set net restrictions, extending from Maunganui Bluff and Bayleys Beach north of the Kaipara Harbour down the west coast almost to New Plymouth.
But these restrictions are not enough, and NABU International (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) has called on the NZ government for more urgent action: "The government is currently considering interim protection measures after a period of public consultation. This is likely to take us into May and may result in a further compromise that fails to offer the species the full protection it requires to return from the very brink. Every day the animals are exposed to gill and trawl nets carries a risk we can't afford. If ever there was a time to act, it is now."
Unlike the incredible rescue of the entire Chatham Island black robin population from just ONE breeding female in the 1980s, we cannot cloister these dolphins somewhere safe until their numbers increase. They cannot be re-located. The only element that CAN be controlled is the human impact. The government must instigate an IMMEDIATE and TOTAL BAN on set nets in the dolphins' area, with severe penalties for enfringements. DOC must also be given more resources to enforce this dire situation. To hell with 'interim measures after public consultation' - forget that PC crap!
Act NOW before another endangered species is lost forever!
PS: 30 April 2012 - Maui's dolphin survival near the "point of no return": expert.
PS: 06 July 2012 - IWC calls for complete gill net ban to save Maui's dolphin.