Māui dolphins are found only off the west coast of Aotearoa New Zealand's North Island, and nowhere else on Earth. The world's smallest dolphin, Māui dolphins are friendly and playful, with distinctive black Mickey-Mouse-ear dorsal fins.

But they could soon disappear forever - unless we act now.

Donate today to help save our Māui dolphins from extinction.

Scientists estimate there are only 63 adult Māui dolphins left.

Historical abundance estimates suggest there were around 200-500 Māui dolphins. But deadly set nets and unsustainable fishing in Māui dolphin habitat has led to a catastrophic decline in their numbers. Because they can’t detect the fine mesh of fishing nets, they can become entangled and die.

Seabed mining, drilling, and exploration, including seismic testing, are putting even more pressure on our taonga. The airguns used in these activities let off deafeningly loud noises, which may cause massive disturbance and distress to Māui dolphins – overpowering the sounds they use to communicate, navigate, find food, and look after their young.


Five Māui dolphins facts

  1. Māui dolphins, Cephalorhynchus hectori maui, were recognised as a distinct subspecies of Hector’s dolphins in 2002. Before then, they were called the North Island Hector’s dolphin.
  2. The Māori name for Māui dolphins is popoto.
  3. Females produce just one calf every 2-4 years, making population increase a very slow process.
  4. They communicate using clicks undetectable by humans.
  5. Māui dolphin are the smallest of the world’s 32 dolphin species. Females grow to 1.7 m long and weigh up to 50 kg. Males are slightly smaller and lighter.

Our work to save Māui dolphins

Thanks to our supporters, we’ve been able to campaign for greater protection of this species for over 20 years – including working with two of the largest fisheries to help to get a ban on set netting and trawling in key areas of Māui dolphin habitat, and more stringent controls over oil and gas exploration and mining.

Our public sighting project uses a free phone line and app, so that people can record sightings of Māui dolphins.

And just last year, generous WWF supporters helped buy the artificial intelligence-powered drone to find, follow, and provide information about Māui dolphins. This data is crucial, because the more we know about them, the better we can protect them.

Although crucial progress has been made to protect Māui dolphins, there is still so much more we need to do. The time has come to step up our efforts if we are to stop the extinction of our national treasure.

And this work is not possible without YOU.


It’s going to take a lot of people working together to save this incredible native species. You can make a difference.

Your generous donation today will help us:

  • lobby the government to go further to protect Māui dolphin habitat and stop destructive practices such as seabed mining
  • maintain our dolphin sightings phone line and mobile app – so we can build a clearer picture of where dolphins are swimming
  • support our education programmes and engagement with iwi and communities
  • work with the fishing industry to protect both dolphins and livelihoods

Our moana/ocean is facing more threats than ever. It is time we step up to protect our big blue backyard for Māui dolphins and many more marine life that call our waters home.

We can’t do it alone. Please make an urgent donation today to help protect the last 63 Māui dolphins.

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.

Livia Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand Executive Director

© Richie Robinson/