Letter to New Zealand Prime Minister regarding Maui’s dolphin

Mr John Key
Prime Minister of New Zealand

Mr Nathan Guy
Minister for Primary Industries

Mr Nick Smith
Minister of Conservation

Parliament Buildings
Wellington 6011
New Zealand

11 February 2013

Dear Sirs,

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is the world’s largest professional group dedicated to the study of marine mammals, with a membership of approximately 2,000 scientists from 60 countries. Its goal is to facilitate the understanding and conservation of marine mammals and the ecosystems that support them.

I write to you as President of the Society, concerning the review of the Threat Management Plan for Maui’s dolphins, Cephalorhynchus hectori maui. I commend the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries for convening an Expert Panel and preparing a Risk Assessment Report to inform the review (see

The Society is committed to using the best available scientific evidence to support sustainable marine resource management, and thus supports conservation solutions consistent with the conclusions of the Expert Panel.

The data on fishing effort presented in the Risk Assessment Report show that gillnetting and trawling still occur in areas inhabited by Maui’s dolphins (see Figures A2.8 and A2.11 of the Report). Gillnets are used up to the boundary of the current protected area, and trawling continues inside and outside the protected area. In fact, the Expert Panel estimated that five Maui’s dolphins die each year from entanglement in fishing gear.

Thus, entanglement mortality annually removes about 9% of the estimated remaining population of 55 individuals (over one year of age), and greatly exceeds the level of human-caused mortality that this small population of dolphins can sustain. Scientific advice often involves a degree of uncertainty, but in a situation such as this one involving a critically endangered subspecies delay to resolve uncertainty could have dire, irrevocable results.

After reviewing research on Maui’s dolphins at its meeting in June 2012, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) expressed particular concern about the small size of the population and recommended immediate implementation of the proposal by the Ministry for Primary Industries to extend the North Island protected area to approximately 80 km south of the latest dolphin bycatch site, offshore to the 100 m depth contour and to include the harbours. As a further indication of international interest and concern, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) adopted a resolution at its World Conservation Congress in September 2012, urging the New Zealand government to ban gillnet and trawl fisheries in all areas where Maui’s dolphins are found.

Scientists from New Zealand and elsewhere have provided an exceptionally strong scientific basis for managing fisheries to prevent the extinction of Maui’s dolphins. Any bycatch of Maui’s dolphins is clearly unsustainable, You will appreciate the urgent need to act on that science and strengthen measures to protect these dolphins, which are endemic to North Island waters. On behalf of the Society for Marine Mammology, I concur with the IWC recommendation to extend the North Island protected area and the IUCN resolution to ban gillnet and trawl fisheries in all areas where these dolphins are found. These actions are critical and without them this population is highly likely to decline towards extinction.

I encourage you to act quickly and decisively to provide the leadership in marine conservation that the world expects of your country.

The Society’s 20th biennial international conference will be held in Dunedin later this year. I look forward to receiving reports of positive management developments benefiting Maui’s dolphins at that time and would be very happy to meet with members of the New Zealand government or their officers if you think that would be helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Helene Marsh PhD, FTSE.