Māui dolphin | WWF New Zealand
©: University of Auckland

Māui dolphins are found only off the west coast of New Zealand's North Island.

But they could soon disappear forever - unless we act now. Scientists estimate that just 63 individuals survive today, having found a small increase from 55 in November 2016. This increase in numbers is no excuse for inaction though, as they are still on the brink of extinction. The Māui dolphin population has plummeted from around 1500 in the 1970s, when deadly gillnets were widely introduced to our waters.

These dolphins can be saved if the New Zealand government supports affected fishers to move to dolphin-friendly methods of fishing and extends the ban on set netting and traditional trawling fishing to cover all of their known range. 

This is a conservation emergency requiring immediate concerted and collaborative action!

© Richard Robinson
© Silvia Scali
© Weaver Creative/ WWF-New Zealand

Habitat and protection

To ensure their survival, Māui dolphins need to be protected throughout their range from set netting, trawling and risky marine mining activities.

This requires a genuine sanctuary from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui River mouth, including harbours, out to 100 metres deep.

Currently, less than half of their habitat is protected.

Together, we can demand our government acts to protect these treasured animals, and helps affected fishers to transition to dolphin-friendly methods.

How you can help

1. Write to the Prime Minister, Bill English, and to the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, urging him to support affected fishers to move to dolphin-friendly methods of fishing and extend the ban on set setting and traditional trawling to cover all the Māui dolphin range, from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui River mouth. You can write to the Minister, freepost, at:
Hon Nathan Guy
Minister for Primary Industries
Parliament Buildings, Wellington

2. Write to the Minister of Conservation, Maggie Barry, asking her to (1) implement a gillnet ban in waters up to 100m deep around the New Zealand coast, and (2) extend the existing trawl ban in Taranaki, from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui River mouth, out to 100m water depth, or 7 nautical miles at a minimum, including the Manukau Harbour. You could also urge her to increase observer coverage on trawl vessels. You can write to her, freepost, at:
Hon Maggie Barry
Minister of Conservation
Parliament Buildings, Wellington

3. Email or write to your local MP and ask him/her to support increased protection of Māui dolphins. 
4. Report any sightings of Māui dolphins on North Island's west coast beaches this summer.
TIP: It's best to put pen to paper as letters have a much greater impact than emails!


Under threat

Fishing with nets has pushed Māui dolphins to the
brink of extinction.

Entanglement in gillnets and capture by inshore trawl
fisheries is estimated to be responsible for more than
95% of all human-caused Māui dolphin deaths.

Oil and gas exploration and activity in Māui habitat
also poses a growing threat, with the government
granting an increasing number of permits inside the
dolphin's known range.

Other potential threats include boat strike,
pollution, mining, acoustic disturbance and
coastal development.

Genetically distinct

Māui dolphins, Cephalorhynchus hectori maui, were recognised as a distinct subspecies of Hector’s dolphins in 2002, as a result of genetic research by New Zealand scientist Dr Alan Baker.

Before then, they were called the North Island Hector’s dolphin.

The dolphins’ common name is Maui’s, after the Māori name for the North Island – te Ika a Māui. They are also known as Māui dolphins, usage WWF now favours in line with the Department of Conservation. The Māori name for Māui dolphins is popoto.

World's rarest

With a total population estimated at about 63 individuals over the age of one year, Māui dolphins are the world’s rarest marine dolphin. The Department of Conservation's abundance estimate released in 2016 had a 95% confidence interval of 57-75, meaning scientists are 95% sure that there is between 57 and 75 individuals excluding calves.
It is very unlikely that more than 10 calves exist at any given time with a population level this low. It also means there needs to be about 20 mature adult females (over 7 years of age) for the population to recover.

The fate of the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphin is in our hands. If we don’t act now, we will see this amazing creature disappear forever.


Greg Millar, WWF-New Zealand Acting Executive Director

What we're doing

We advocate for better protection for Māui dolphins.

This includes engaging in the Threat Management Plan processes and Māui Dolphin Research and Advisory Group and advocating strongly for a real sanctuary for Māui dolphins where they can recover their population in safety from set nets, trawl fishing, and potential new threats including mining and seismic surveying.

We also have a strong focus on advocating for industry transition to dolphin safe fishing methods, and calling for government to support this transition.

Help us save Māui dolphins. Donate to WWF

Māui Dolphin Education Resources

Māui Dolphin Education Resources - 2014


2017 BERL Report

This year, we relased a Business Economic Research Limited (BERL) report, showing that it will cost as little as 0.03% of the government's budget to save Māui dolphins and support fishing communities through the transition.

2016 Report of the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee. Annex M: Report of the Sub-Committee on Small Cetaceans

8.3.2 Māui dolphins (pages 16-18) from Report of the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee. Bled,  Slovenia, 7-19 June 2016. Annex M: Report of the Sub-Committee on Small Cetaceans

2014 Colmar Brunton Poll

In 2014, a Colmar Brunton poll showed that 60% of New Zealanders are more likely to vote for parties that will protect Māui dolphins across their range.