Saturday, November 08, 2008

Are Hector's dolphins in danger of extinction?

Hector's dolphins are being caught in commercial gill nets at 10 times sustainable levels, according to an Otago University researcher.

Associate professor Liz Slooten ran Hector's dolphin population data through a United States-developed potential biological removal model that looks at the impact of humans on marine mammal populations.

Dr Slooten found the Hector's dolphin population was set to shrink to 5000 in the next 50 years, from a current population estimated at just under 8000.

"On the other hand if they were protected from fisheries mortality throughout their range, they could recover to some 15,000 individuals over that same time."

Set nets, also called gill nets, are either pegged to the sea floor or moored midwater. Big fish get tangled in them.

Dr Slooten said fishermen should change to more selective methods, for example, long-lining.
The Hector's is the world's rarest dolphin.

In May, the Government announced new measures protecting Hector's and Maui dolphins, with set-netting banned up to seven kilometres off the Taranaki coast, the Marlborough Sounds and at Te Waewae Bay in Southland.

Last month commercial fishermen won a High Court ruling temporarily lifting the bans.

Care for the Wilds chief executive Barbara Maas said the research confirmed the toll fishing was having on Hector's dolphins.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"