Aotearoa’s Māui dolphins live in the coastal waters of the North Island’s West Coast. They are a sub-species of the South Island’s Hector dolphins. Only about 60 Māui dolphins remain, making them the rarest marine dolphin in the world. Because of their tiny population size and multiple human threats, Māui are at an extreme risk of extinction.

The Māui Drone Project is using a specialised, artificial-intelligence (AI) powered, drone to detect and map their most important habitats in order to improve our understanding of the lives of Māui and Hector dolphins. This will help us find the best way to protect them and help them thrive.

Through this innovative technology comes innovative collaboration - sparking open dialogue between scientists, industry, government, and conservation experts. This joint effort aims to improve the conservation outlook for Māui dolphins, before it’s too late.

Did you know?
Many species of dolphins use different parts of their habitat during the day compared with night.

© Silvia Scali


Māui dolphins need urgent protection from key human threats, including:

  • Entanglement in fishing nets
  • Toxoplasmosis - a parasite caused by cat faeces being washed into our waterways
  • Oil, gas, and mineral exploration and mining

To save Maui dolphins we need to remove all human threats from their habitat as soon as possible. To do this effectively, we need better data and evidence about how these dolphins use and move around in their habitat.

Did you know?
Where Māui and Hector’s dolphins swim at night is a mystery to scientists.

© © The University Of Auckland / WWF-New Zealand


WWF-New Zealand is leading this collaborative project by bringing together the New Zealand Government, science and technology innovators MAUI63, WWF, and fishing companies Moana New Zealand and Sanford Ltd. Together, we are building the critical science through the exploration and development of conservation solutions, before it’s too late for our taonga.

The Māui Drone Project will:

  1. Develop a large, AI-powered drone with advanced analytical tools to find and track Māui dolphins, and map their habitat.

  2. Design robust survey methods to finally answer critical questions around how these dolphins use their habitat throughout the year

  3. Publicly share the data in order to power the science used to determine how best to protect Māui dolphins from key threats. A particular focus is how to halt the threat of dolphins being accidentally entangled and dying in fishing nets.

WWF-New Zealand continues to use the very latest and best science, including results from the Māui Drone Project, to strongly advocate for the elimination of all human caused threats to Māui dolphins. Our goal is to see this taonga species recover and thrive in a healthy, safe habitat.

Did you know?
About 10-20% of trawl fishing on the Māui dolphin coast occurs at night, which means answering the mystery of Māui nighttime habitat use is vital to ensuring they are effectively protected.

© Steve Dawson


Donate today. Your donation could help us:

  • Lobby the government to go further to protect Māui dolphin habitat
  • Maintain our dolphin sightings phone line and mobile app – so we can build a clearer picture of where dolphins are swimming
  • Support our community education programmes and engagement with iwi
  • Strengthen our work with the fishing industry to protect both dolphins and livelihoods

Know scientists and researchers? Share the Māui Drone Project with them. The journey to save this incredible endemic species is a collaborative one.