©: University of Auckland


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

These beautiful animals are unique to Aotearoa New Zealand. 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. Scientists estimate that just 63 adult Māui dolphins survive today. They are on the brink of extinction. The Māui dolphin population has plummeted since deadly set nets (also known as gillnets) were widely introduced to our waters. More recently, new threats like the disease toxoplasmosis have emerged – and might even now be a bigger threat than fishing.

It is still possible to save Maui dolphins. The best available science shows that all human threats need to be reduced by 50-75% within ten years.  This means Government needs to take immediate action to support affected people and communities to move to methods of fishing that are safe for dolphins and address threats of toxoplasmosis.

These dolphins are in real trouble. Together, it’s possible to save them.

© Weaver Creative/ WWF-New Zealand
© Richie Robinson/Naturepl.com
© Silvia Scali


Your help could be crucial to stopping their extinction. Ordinary Kiwis like you have power. Together, it's possible for us to save Māui dolphins.

Here's how you can help today:

Māui dolphins are unique

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 Māui, 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.

Māui dolphins are the world's rarest

With a total population estimated at about 63 adults, Māui dolphins are the world’s rarest marine dolphin. The Department of Conservation in 2016 released a new "abundance estimate", estimating that there were 63 Māui dolphins over the age of one year, with a 95% confidence interval of 57-75, meaning scientists are 95% sure that there is between 57 and 75 individuals excluding calves. The previous abudance estimate was 55, but as the confidence intervals for each estimate overlap, this does not mean the population has stablised or increased.

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.

Livia Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand CEO


Population dynamic modeling of the Māui dolphin based on genotype capture recapture with projections involving bycatch and disease risk

Dr. Justin Cooke, world renowned statistician and modeller used state of art modelling to produce new and more accurate estimates of population size, survival rates, and populations trends.  His analysis looks at what the population has done over the period 2001 – 2016, and as well as what the population is likely to do in the future depending on how much the human-caused threats are reduced.  Results show that in order to avoid the extinction of Maui dolphins, the human caused mortality must be reduced by an order of 50%-75% within 10 years. That means acting NOW.

New Zealanders’ attitudes towards conservation of endangered species: Spotlight on the Māui and Hector’s Dolphins

Colmar Brunton carried out focus group research and a nationwide survey to explore New Zealander’s values about conservation of Maui and Hectors Dolphins. Results show that 81% believe the government should act now to reduce threats to Māui dolphins before there is any further population decline.

Review of Hector’s and Māui dolphin diet, nutrition and potential mechanisms of nutritional stress

Dr. Weir’s research found that Maui and Hector’s dolphins have high energy needs, must forage and feed almost all the time in order to produce healthy calves and be resilient to disease. This means in addition to managing top threats from toxoplasmosis and fisheries, we must also manage threats from seismic surveying which can disrupt normal foraging and feeding, and we must halt the degradation of the marine environment from land-based impacts such as sedimentation and pollution.

Gear switching to remove threats to Māui dolphin and address the socio-economic barriers to effective conservation

This paper describes the conservation emergency of Maui dolphins and major barriers to effective conservation, and identifies potential solutions which involve fishing industry leadership and transition to dolphins safe gear types.

2017 BERL Report

In 2017, we released 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.


Māui dolphin – An inquiry to action (2014) is a cross-curricular inquiry-learning resource for schools. It is designed to support teachers and students to undertake their own inquiries into the protection of the world’s most endangered marine mammal – the Māui dolphin.

This resource is designed for levels 2–4 of the New Zealand curriculum; however, it can be modified by teachers or facilitators and used at all levels of the curriculum. While the curriculum links focus on science and social studies, teaching about this critically endangered dolphin can be integrated into any curriculum learning area.