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 from around 1500 in the 1970s, when 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.
To ensure their survival, Māui dolphins need to be protected wherever they swim.
This requires protection from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui River mouth, including harbours, out to 100 metres deep. Different kinds of protection may be needed in different places, including fisheries closures, banning seismic blasting, banning seabed mining, and increasing observer and camera coverage.
Now, less than 30% of their habitat is protected from set nets, and less than 8% is protected from both set nets and conventional trawling – but more than 30% is permitted for oil and gas exploration!
New science and innovation will also play a critical part. From drone technology to better study the dolphins to new kinds of fishing nets that are safe for dolphins, innovation will be key. Toxoplasmosis especially requires more scientific investigation, and action.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.DOWNLOAD