New Zealand can act to conserve dolphins

Rt. Hon. Helen Clark Prime Minister
PO Box 18888 Parliament Buildings
Wellington New Zealand

New Zealand can act to conserve Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins

Dear Prime Minister:

The recent extinction of the baiji, (Lipotes vexillifer), a river dolphin endemic to China, is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of dolphins and porpoises to human activities. The Board of the Society for Marine Mammalogy wishes to convey to you its grave concern about the future of Maui’s dolphins and the continued vulnerability of Hector’s dolphin. Our Society is the largest professional group in the world dedicated to the study of marine mammals and consists of approximately 2,000 scientists from 60 countries. We are dedicated to the understanding and conservation of marine mammals and their ecosystems. As you know, only about 100 Maui’s dolphins and some 7000 Hector’s dolphins remain. Maui’s dolphins are recognized both nationally and internationally as critically endangered. The very small size of the population is of particular concern as small populations are vulnerable both to natural disasters and human impacts. Hector’s dolphins are listed as endangered by both New Zealand and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Hector’s dolphins are found in three geographically and genetically isolated populations, a situation which increases their vulnerability to human impacts.

New Zealand has been a world leader in the conservation of marine ecosystems and has demonstrated strong commitment to the conservation of Hector’s dolphins through establishment of the Bank’s Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary and the protected area for Maui’s dolphins off the North Island. We commend you and your Government for these actions and for the Draft Threat Management Plan now under consideration.

As you evaluate further measures to conserve Maui’ s and Hector’s dolphins, we urge you to consider the following:

  1. Hector’s dolphins are amongst the best-studied species of marine mammals. There is an extensive scientific literature describing the distribution, abundance, population structure and demography of these dolphins. While Maui’s dolphin is less well known, the knowledge of Hector’s dolphins is likely to be highly applicable. Management action does not need to wait for further research.
  2. The scientific evidence is very clear. The primary threat to both sub-species is bycatch in commercial and recreational gill net fisheries and trawl fisheries. Scientific evidence suggests that any level of by-catch of Maui’s dolphin is unsustainable. The estimated by-catch rates for Hector’s dolphin continue to be the primary cause of concerns for its vulnerability.
  3. The only conservation measure that has proven to reduce by-catches of all small cetaceans in gill net and trawl fisheries effectively over the long term is separation of nets and animals in time and/or space. The two protected areas for Hector’s and Maui’ s dolphins were major steps forward when they were created, but recent research has demonstrated that these areas are likely to be insufficient to allow recovery. Significant increases in the nature and extent of the spatial protection are required to limit the risk of extinction for Maui’s dolphin and to improve the conservation status of Hector’s dolphin. This protection needs to be extended to all populations of Hector’s dolphins.

We look forward to your continued leadership on this critical conservation issue. We hope that New Zealand’s actions will continue to set a global standard for the effective conservation of the world’s whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Please contact me if you would like further independent scientific advice from members of the Society who are experts in the conservation of coastal dolphins.

Yours sincerely,

John E. Reynolds, III, Ph.D. President

Hon. Steve Chadwick Minister of Conservation Parliament Buildings
P.O. Box 18888
Wellington New Zealand

Hon. Jim Anderton
Minister of Fisheries
Parliament Buildings
P.O. Box] 8888
Wellington New Zealand