The little dolphin that can?

By April 2, 2013Ocean News

Maui’s dolphin, the little dolphin that can, is what people in New Zealand are hoping since the world’s smallest dolphin calls the west coast of the North Island 220px-Maui's_dolphin_range_net_banhome.

With only 55 adults left in the wild there may seem to be very little hope to protect this species so they can get to a viable breeding population (a population that can protect the species from extinction). They grow to be ~1.7m long and 50kg and like to spend their time close to shore foraging for food in water less than 20m deep. Being small and living close to shore these dolphins have a much higher risk or human threats like set nets and gill nets. Like many other animals they get tangled up in the net and drown because they can’t free themselves, and because they live so close to shore that just increases their frequency of encountering fishing vessels and nets.

Many people will have heard of Toxoplasmosis, it’s the disease that people get from cats that is especially dangerous for pregnant women. No one knows how but recently it’s been found that 61% of the Maui’s dolphins found dead were infected with toxoplasmosis. The disease has been shown to reduce fertility in livestock. This is a huge double whammy for conserving the Maui’s dolphin population since it outright kills some of the adults and also makes them less able to produce new offspring.

Currently the New Zealand government has taken some steps to protect this rarest of marine mammals by banning set netting and trawling out to 7km off the coast and requiring observers to spot for the dolphins on ships using set nets beyond that distance within their range.

Unfortunately there are many other steps the government needs to take in order to keep this species around for the future. In 2012 at the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Korea, New Zealand was the only country to vote against measures that could be used to protect this species. Basically these protections amount to increasing the area of the protected zone to be all the waters in the Maui’s dolphin’s range up to 100m deep. This would ban all trawling, gill netting, and set netting.

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes in response to this says “It isn’t hard to give this species a shot at survival: we need to stop needlessly killing them in fishing nets.” So really what it comes down to is do people care? Will people act to make some basic changes to the laws to protect a species that will soon be extinct without them?

If you’re in New Zealand what do you think? If not what species from your area seem to be going down the road to extinction through, basically willful neglect?

Aerial survey of Hector's dolphins, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

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