23 March 2008

Hector dolphins and bycatch

Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are found only in New Zealand waters and their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years. Hector dolphins have dropped from an estimated population of 26,000 in the 1970s to under 7,000 today.

The situation for the Maui's dolphin, a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, is even worse: 
90% of these animals have died in fishing nets and the latest survey indicated a population of only 111.

Most of the bycatch occurs in gill and trawl nets. These fishing methods have pushed the two dolphin populations to the brink of extinction. Chris Howe, executive director of WWF's New Zealand branch, said that current fishing controls are failing to protect endangered dolphins. "All fishing with set nets and trawl nets should be banned throughout the range of Hector's and Maui's dolphins," Howe said. "That's the only way to ensure a slow-breeding, rare species can recover."

New Zealand is now being urged by conservationists to do more to protect these animals. They claim that only complete protection against fishing-related mortality will save these dolphins from extinction. A decision on the level of protection for Hector's and Maui's dolphins is currently under review by the New Zealand government.

Silvia Bonizzoni

Image: WWF New Zealand

For more information:
www.telegraph.co.uk (but please note that dolphins in the photo are common dolphins, not Mauis' dolphins)

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