There have been numerous reports of public sightings of Māui and/or Hector’s dolphins on the east coast of the North Island, from the Coromandel Peninsula to Hawke’s Bay. There have never been any targeted scientific surveys of these dolphins. So, public sightings are currently the only evidence these dolphins exist in these areas.

© Will Rayment


Hector's and Māui dolphins are two of the smallest marine dolphins in the world, and are unique to New Zealand.

Hector's dolphins are found around New Zealand's South Island. They are classified as "Nationally Critical" under Department of Conservation Threat Classification System. There are about 15,000 Hector's dolphins today, made up of unique sub-poplations, like communities or hapū that are genetically and geographically distinct.

The Māui dolphin is a subspecies of the Hector's dolphin, and the two are almost impossible to tell apart. Māui dolphins reside in the shallow coastal waters of the North Island. Scientists estimate that just 63 adult Māui dolphins of age 1 year or older exist today. They are on the brink of extinction and could soon disappear forever, unless we act now.

It is only by building the science and a better understanding about these dolphins that we will know how best to look after them. Current key science gaps, include:

  • Are these dolphins a sub-species of Māui or Hector’s dolphins? Or are they a unique genetic group? and/or what population are they from?
  • What is the population size?
  • Are they migrant/transient or do they live off the North Island’s East Coast all year round?
  • Are they breeding off the North Island’s East Coast?
  • What is their distribution and habitat use? Where do they swim? Where do they swim at what times of the day and year?
  • What and where are their key threats? How should they best be managed?



WWF-New Zealand are teaming up with the Department of Conservation to rapidly build the essential knowledge about these dolphins. This knowledge will help guide the Government on how best to protect them and manage threats in their habitat. WWF is also looking for other partners to join us in this collaborative effort.

This citizen science project aims to to increase the public’s awareness of these dolphins and, we hope, increase the reportings of sightings.

WWF-New Zealand will use the public sightings data to strongly advocate for more targeted science investment by the Government and effective conservation policy.



Spread the word! Tell your friends and family about the East Coast Māui/ Hector’s dolphins project, and report sightings through our Māui sighting app.

Donate today! Your funds will help the citizen science project, including:

  • To facilitate/fund wānanga to bring people together to educate and share knowledge about the dolphins and the moana more widely.
  • Communications, engagement, and outreach to East Coast coastal communities including a WWF-New Zealand and DOC East Coast Māui/Hector’s local community engagements during the Summer of 2021/22
  • Independent validation of the public sightings by Cawthron Institute

Did you know?
There were several sightings of Māui/ Hector’s dolphins at Hotwater Beach, Coromandel during the summer of 2019/20!

© (C) Will Rayment