Hector's Dolphin


  • Status
  • Population
    estimated at 7000
  • Scientific Name
    Cephalorhynchus hectori
  • Weight
    up to 110 pounds
  • Length
    4 feet
  • Habitats

Hector’s dolphins are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world. They have distinct black facial markings, short stocky bodies and a dorsal fin shaped like a Mickey Mouse ear. There is a subspecies of Hector’s dolphin known as Maui’s dolphin that is critically endangered and estimated to have a population of only 55. They are found only in the shallow coastal waters along western shores of New Zealand’s North Island.

Why They Matter

  • Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins only live in New Zealand’s shallow coastal waters. They are both at risk of becoming extinct.


  • Population estimated at 7000
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened


Hector’s dolphin caught in a gillnet.

Living close to shore is a problem for the dolphins. Bycatch—becoming tangled in recreational and commercial gill and trawl nets—is the biggest threat they face.  Gillnets, for example, are made of a fine mesh that dolphins are unable to detect underwater and they accidentally swim into them and become caught. Other threats include being struck by boats, pollution in their habitat, coastal development and seabed mining.

What WWF Is Doing

WWF works to end gill net use and trawling in Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin habitat. After the 2012 International Whaling Commission meeting, New Zealand agreed to ban gillnets in a portion of Maui’s dolphin habitat. This is a positive step, but a ban throughout the dolphin’s entire range is needed to ensure their survival. WWF is urging New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to protect the last remaining Maui’s dolphins by prohibiting dangerous fishing gear from their habitat, safeguarding the region from sand mining and the threat of oil and gas exploration, and establishing a protected ocean corridor.


Related Species