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WWF: Saving the World’s Smallest and Rarest Marine Dolphins

WASHINGTON, D.C.– World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is asking people to join a new online campaign urging the New Zealand Prime Minister to stop the extinction of Maui’s dolphins – the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world.

New research released earlier this year estimated there are now just 55 critically endangered Maui’s dolphins over the age of one.* WWF is launching the online action today as the New Zealand government prepares to make decisions that could determine Maui’s fate.

“Scientists believe it is possible to pull Maui’s back from the brink of extinction, but only if the New Zealand government acts decisively to protect the dolphins from all human threats throughout their range,” said WWF-New Zealand Executive Director, Chris Howe. “The government is about to review protection measures for Maui’s, so this is a critical time for people around the world to speak out on behalf of Maui’s dolphins.”

WWF is inviting people to send an email to New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, asking him to protect Maui’s dolphins.

The main cause of the dolphins‘ decline towards extinction is fishing with gillnets. Maui’s dolphins use sonar to navigate the murky coastal waters, but aren’t able to detect the fine gillnets and so risk becoming entangled and drowning. They can also be killed in trawl nets. The New Zealand government has banned trawl and gillnet fishing in some parts of Maui’s habitat, but there are still areas of their habitat which are unprotected. Other threats include pollution, boat strike, coastal development, and sand mining.

Government commissioned science indicates that we can only afford to lose one Maui’s dolphin at the hands of humans every 10 to 23 years without impacting on the population’s ability to recover.

“This is a chance for people around the world to make a real difference, joining with many New Zealanders in calling on the New Zealand government to prohibit dangerous fishing gear from the entire Maui’s habitat; safeguard the region from sand mining and the threat of oil and gas exploration; and establish a protected ocean corridor,” said Mr Howe.

Add your voice to the online campaign for Maui’s dolphins.

*The new population estimate of 55 has a confidence level of 95% meaning the researchers are 95% confident that there are between 48-69 Maui's dolphins over the age of one. Maui’s population estimate 

About Maui’s Dolphins

• Maui’s dolphins live along the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and are a genetically distinct sub-species of Hector’s dolphins, which live in the coastal waters of New Zealand‘s South Island.
• Hector’s and Maui’s are easily recognised by their unique rounded dorsal fin, small, rounded bodies and distinctive black markings.
• Scientists believe there were around 1500 Maui’s dolphins and around 29,000 Hector’s dolphins in the 1970s, before the use of mono-filament gillnets in fishing practices became widespread throughout New Zealand waters.
• The population estimate released in March 2012 found presence of two migrant female Hector’s within the Maui’s range, which would have travelled a distance greater than 400 km. Given the dolphins are ranging such significant distances, it is critIcal to protect the ocean corridor connecting the Maui’s dolphin population in the North Island with the Hector’s dolphin population in the South Island.
• Maui’s and fishers can both safely share New Zealand waters, so long as sustainable fishing methods are adopted. While gillnets kill dolphins, most other types of fishing don’t, such as using handlines, longlines, fish traps and trolling.
• The New Zealand government is reviewing the Maui’s component of the Hector’s dolphin Threat Management Plan, and is currently developing options for mitigating threats to Maui’s dolphins. The government will run a 6 to 8 week consultation period in the coming weeks.

About World Wildlife Fund

WWF is the world’s leading conservation organization, working in 100 countries for half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit our website to learn more.

For More Information

• Jenna Bonello, WWF-US: (202) 495-4541,
• Rosa Argent, WWF-New Zealand: +64 (0)272123103
• Jenny Riches, WWF-New Zealand +64 (0)274 477158