Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin Protection – New Zealand

Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are the world’s rarest species of dolphin. Care for the Wild campaigned for their increased protection from 2004 to 2011.

The Situation

Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are endemic to New Zealand’s coastal waters. Being a coastal species, they are extremely vulnerable to increased human activities.

Total populations of Hector’s dolphins are estimated to have fallen by more than 70% in the past 4 decades to around 7,000 individuals, with the North Island subspecies Maui’s dolphins falling by more than 90% leaving only around 100 individuals.

The main cause of these disastrous population crashes has been the massive growth in inshore fishing over recent decades, with dolphins becoming entangled in set and trawl nets and dying from asphyxiation.

Since the early 1970s, commercial gill netting and trawling have grown considerably around New Zealand’s coast lines. New Zealand is also one of the only countries in the world which allows recreational gill netting.

Increased regulation limiting fishing and other human activities was urgently needed within the dolphins’ range to give the populations a chance of recovery.

What did Care for the Wild Argue?

Care for the wild argued that the solution to the problem was relatively simple – stop gill netting and trawling in areas where the dolphins are known to live, and they will have the chance to recover. Because the dolphins were so close to extinction, only complete protection against fishing-related mortality could save them from extinction.

The fishing industry fought even the most minor fishing restrictions put in place to protect the dolphins. This industry driven pressure on the Government led to hesitation and valuable time being lost in the attempt to save the remaining dolphins.

Care for the Wild, Care for the Wild argued that an environmentally conscious country like New Zealand, which attracts tourists by marketing the country as an unspoilt paradise, should do everything possible to prevent the extinction of these iconic animals and not let commercial interests get in the way.

What Happened?

Few New Zealanders were aware of the plights of the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, so Care for the Wild instigated a public awareness campaign to increasing public awareness, and therefore heighten pressure on the government to take action to protect the dolphins.

As a result of campaigning by Care for the Wild and other organisations, the New Zealand government developed a ‘Threat Management Plan’, establishing extending restrictions on gill netting and trawling, and introduced other controls to improve protection for the remaining Hector’s and Maui’ dolphins.

Further Reading

You can find out more about all of our previous campaigns on our Campaigns Materials page.