The Maui's dolphin population has dropped to an all-time low, with fewer than 50 left in New Zealand. Researchers are therefore calling for much-needed urgent action to prevent the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin from disappearing off the face of the Earth. Unless there are significant efforts to protect these dolphins, they could become extinct within 15 years.
The Maui’s dolphin is a subspecies of Hector's dolphin found along the west coast of the North Island, New Zealand. These dolphins are ‘critically endangered’ and their population size has been declining since the 1970s. Researchers estimate that the rate of decline from 1970 to 2009 is a harrowing 93%. Dr. Barbara Maas, NABU International's head of endangered species conservation, tells BBC news that their extinction is ''a matter of when, not if" unless the government implements far-reaching preventative measures to protect the dolphins.
Maui's dolphins are particularly vulnerable to human-induced deaths as they live within a few miles of the coast. Many become entangled in fishing gear, such as trawlers and set netting, and die as a result. The study, which will be presented to the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission, estimates that five Maui's dolphins are killed each year by fishing nets. Researchers have previously criticized the New Zealand government for not placing effective restrictions on the use of set gillnets, and instead call for full protection across the dolphin's range.
"These new figures are a loud wakeup call: New Zealand has to abandon its current stance, which places the interests of the fishing industry above biodiversity conservation, and finally protect the dolphins' habitat from harmful fishing nets, seismic airgun blasts and oil and gas extraction," Maas adds.
These dolphins, which can live up to 20 years, have a shorter lifespan than other dolphin species. Their populations are slow to increase as females produce one calf every 2 to 4 years. New Zealand Department of Conservation suggests that a population of 55 Maui's dolphins may only increase by one individual a year, meaning it will take a long time to recover from such a considerable truncation.