Saturday, April 28, 2007

Deadly algae killed dophins and seals

Hundreds of seals, dolphins and marine birds have been killed in recent weeks by an upsurge in a sea toxin linked to overfishing, the destruction of wetlands and pollution, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

The report was triggered by the sight on local beaches of sick and dead pelicans, sea lions and dolphins. Scientists believe that the toxin, domoic acid, is produced by microscopic algae that are flourishing because of overfishing, marine farming and other man-made causes.

'I have been doing this work for 35 years and I have never seen anything like this as far as the number of species affected, other than an oil spill,' said Jay Holcomb, director of the International Bird Rescue Research Centre in San Pedro.

Domoic acid, which accumulates in shellfish and fish and is then passed on to the birds and animals that eat them, has occurred each spring over the past decade as ocean water warms and algae bloom. But this year's algae are 'especially virulent,' according to the rescue centre.

Dead birds, including grebes, gulls, cormorants, American avocets and loons, began littering Southern California beaches in March while dozens of sea lions, dolphins and even whales have also washed ashore in recent weeks.

Scientists believe the explosion of harmful algae causes toxins to move through the food chain and concentrate in the dietary staples of marine mammals, causing poisoning that scrambles the brains of the animals and leads them to wash ashore.

Underwater "chat line" has been set up to help calf of deaf mother

An underwater "chat line" may help stimulate communication development in an unborn dolphin—in ways the calf's mother, which is deaf, cannot.

Castaway, a pregnant Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, has been living at the Marine Mammal Conservancy (MMC) in Key Largo,
Florida, since January, when she was found stranded in Vero Beach.

A battery of tests determined that the mother-to-be is profoundly deaf. Deafness can be fatal for dolphins in the wild. The animals rely on echolocation—the sending and receiving of sound waves—to socialize, find prey, and avoid predators.

"Dolphins live in a world of sound," said MMC president Robert Lingenfelser. "The inability to hear makes them blind, in a sense."

Scientists do not know what caused Castaway's deafness, but they doubt that the dolphin has been deaf since birth.

The bottlenose is about 27 years old. Researchers believe it is highly unlikely that she would have survived so long in the wild, even with help from her pod, if the dolphin had been deaf its entire life.

Concerns for Calf

Castaway's deafness could also hinder her ability to teach her calf vital developmental skills.
The first few months of life are the most critical for newborn dolphins to learn survival skills, Lingenfelser says.

To date, Castaway has only uttered a few sounds in a low-frequency monotone—a stark contrast to an average dolphin's steady stream of high-frequency chirps, squeaks, and clicks.

"Probably our biggest concern is that the calf will not develop the ability to communicate if the mother is not communicating," said Jill Borger-Richardson, director of research and education at Dolphins Plus, a Key Largo dolphin and marine mammal research and education facility.

Dolphins Plus scientists have consequently recorded several "conversations" of their hearing dolphins. Those recordings are now being played in Castaway's pen via underwater speakers to promote the fetal calf's communication development.

Once the calf is born, scientists plan to turn off the stereo and give Castaway the opportunity to communicate with her calf on her own.

If Castaway's verbal repertoire does not improve, staff will try opening up a live chat line between the dolphins at MMC and those at Dolphins Plus. Even then, success is not guaranteed.

"At the very least, [these efforts] might help the calf assimilate into its pod when it's moved to a new facility," Borger-Richardson said. "If it's not going to hurt them, we might as well give it a try."

Castaway has a mid-May due date. MMC scientists will monitor the bottlenose and her newborn calf for at least nine months before transporting the pair to another facility.

Given Castaway's deafness and her calf's potential developmental delays, neither dolphin will be released into the wild.

White sided dolphin dies in fishing net

The large nets that surround the West Coast's ubiquitous ocean fish farms are claiming an increasingly grim toll of marine mammals eager to gobble the farms' captive salmon.

The latest victims are a white-sided dolphin and a rare harbour porpoise, snared and drowned in the nets of a fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago off northern Vancouver Island.

Andrew Thomson, director of aquaculture management for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said yesterday that it was the first time he had heard of either animal dying from net entanglement at a B.C. fish farm.

The harbour porpoise is listed as a species of concern by the federal government because of its low numbers. The incident occurred at Mainstream Canada's operation on Wehlis Bay.

It follows news last week of 51 large California sea lions drowning in the nets of a fish farm near Tofino, a death toll that Mr. Thomson said was also unprecedented.

The DFO has launched investigations into the marine mammal deaths at both fish farms, he said. "It's a large number of animals and something the department views very seriously."

Mr. Thomson said the department also intends to send letters to all fish-farm operators in the province, reminding them of their obligation to report every incident in which a marine mammal drowns in their nets.

"We require this information for the proper management of the industry," he said, adding that he had no reason to believe fish farms are not complying.

However, Mr. Thomson refused to comment when asked if Mainstream Canada had reported the deaths of the dolphin and harbour porpoise.

"I really don't want to get into details until our investigation is complete."

Mainstream Canada did not immediately return calls.

Alexandra Morton, a prominent researcher into the problem of sea lice caused by ocean fish farms, said she passed the information on to the DFO, after receiving an anonymous e-mail about the dolphin and porpoise deaths.

When she went to investigate, there was no sign of their carcasses, although a diver did discover a dead Steller's sea lion in the nets.

"He was jammed in so tightly. That animal must have struggled so hard before he drowned," said Ms. Morton, a marine biologist with the Raincoast Research Society.

The spate of marine mammal deaths has fuelled calls for an end to the open-ocean net cages used by the scores of salmon fish farms on the West Coast in favour of a system with closed container tanks.

Environmentalists point to the dangers of farmed salmon escaping and mixing with wild salmon, the prodigious problem of waste from the salmon, the infestation of sea lice and now the growing mortality among marine mammals.

"The industry is going to have to face the fact that their nets are inappropriate on a coast so wild and vibrant," Ms. Morton said.

"They could get rid of all their problems if they stopped using nets in the open ocean."

Fish farmers argue that moving to closed containers would be too expensive to compete with farmed salmon from other countries, and the technology is unproven.

Once they smell the captive farmed salmon, marine mammals can become frenzied in their attempt to gorge on the fish, gnawing their way through several net layers to reach the prized prey.
But afterward, they are often disoriented and become trapped.

"It becomes a bit like a crab pot. Easy to get in, difficult to get out," said Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Unit at the University of British Columbia. "They become desperate looking for a way out and that's it. They drown.

"It's not a happy situation for anyone, for the fish farms and for people who value marine life."
Mr. Thomson of DFO said he is at a loss to know what has prompted the deaths of so many marine mammals.

"We certainly don't see this at all fish-farm sites in B.C. We want to find out why [these particular sites] have seen this type of incident. We've had these incidents before but never this serious."

Life saved by an angel on the beach

Most people who walk along a beach consider themselves fortunate if they find a seashell, a piece of driftwood or a cool-looking rock. Amanda Mann found a dolphin.

On March 24, Amanda, who is 25, was visiting Florida with her mother, Debbie Lopez, and her aunt Alma Nerone, both of Springfield, and her great-aunt Rita Jones, who lives in Girard. They took a boat excursion to Egmont Key, which is at the mouth of Tampa Bay. As Amanda was walking along the shore of Egmont Key, she spotted the dolphin lying on the beach.

"I thought it was a dead dolphin," she says, "but I looked at it and noticed it was breathing. Its blowhole was opening up. I said, 'Well, I think it's hurt and needs help.'"

Amanda and Alma decided to see what they could do. The dolphin was on its side. They rolled it to its stomach, but it kept flipping itself on its side.

Soon another tourist came and, after taking pictures, offered to help. The group made some cell phone calls from the beach, including one to 911. They were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Egmont Key is mostly a wildlife refuge managed by that federal agency, along with the state and the Coast Guard.

A staffer from Fish and Wildlife said someone would come out to lend assistance. The agency also contacted a marine biologist, who got on the phone to give Amanda some suggestions.
"The biologist said to get some towels wet and put them on the dolphin, because they can get sunburned easily," Amanda says. "He wanted us to keep her blowhole clear. We did that for about forever and held her.

"She didn't thrash too much. Just at first. But, later, I think she knew we were trying to help her. Before we put those wet towels on her, she was making noises, like whimpering. After we put the towels on her, she didn't do that anymore."

A couple of hours went by, but nobody with any dolphin expertise had arrived. An official from the state park did get there. He joined in rescue efforts, including making more phone calls for help. The staff from Clearwater Marine Aquarium agreed to send a crew to pick up the sick dolphin.
A few hours after she first saw the beached dolphin, Amanda and her family had to catch the boat back to shore.

"I was so mad," Amanda says, "because we had to leave the dolphin. I asked the park ranger or whatever he was, 'Can I have your phone number, or is there some way I can get ahold of you to find out what happens?' He gave me his card."

The next day, Amanda called him. She found out that her dolphin had eventually been taken to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota for treatment. Mote has a Dolphin and Whale Hospital in which it cares for stranded dolphins and whales.

A couple of days later, it was nearing time for Amanda to return to Springfield. But first, she called Mote Marine Laboratory.

"I was nervous because I was afraid they'd say she didn't make it," Amanda says.

But the dolphin did make it. Before leaving Florida, Amanda and her family went to Mote see her.
"A doctor, or veterinarian or whatever they are called, came out and took us back to her," Amanda says. "She was isolated in a tank. They said she had pneumonia and had eaten some (marine) sponges, which isn't good for them.

"Usually, they said, baby dolphins stay with their mother for three to five years. This one was only 18 months old. Her mom either abandoned her or she got sick and then her mom abandoned her. She beached herself to die."

But she didn't die.

"It was so neat," Amanda says. "We took pictures, and she was swimming in her little tank. It was great to know."

Doctors eventually operated twice on the dolphin, which they named Dancer, to remove sponges. Mote has a Web site on which it has posted updates on Dancer, along with a picture of her in her tank. Amanda and her family have been able to track Dancer's progress on the Web site from Springfield. The last entry says the dolphin is continuing to improve.

Dancer may or may not be released back into the Gulf of Mexico. If not, it will most likely end up at a Florida aquarium. Either way is fine with Amanda. She is just happy Dancer survived.

"I didn't know if she was going to die or not," Amanda says. "But I had to do something."

Everybody has a story. The problem is that some of them are boring. If yours is not, contact Dave Bakke at 788-1541 or

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Two Hurricane Katrina dolphins survivors gave birth

After being rescued from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005, two dolphins gave birth to calves at Atlantis, Paradise Island.

The first offspring from the famed rescued 'Katrina Dolphins' were born at Dolphin Cay, the new dolphin interaction and education center at Atlantis. The first was born to 32-year-old Kelly on April 4, 2007. A second calf, was born on April 6, 2007 to 21-year-old Michelle. The two moms, who were together in a special maternity pool within the habitat at the time of both births, have spent the first days nurturing and bonding with the newest members of the Dolphin Cay family.

Presently, marine specialists are monitoring the calves to ensure their proper development. "These births are the first successful ones for Dolphin Cay from the rescued 'Katrina Dolphins' that are expecting offspring, a true testament to the full recovery and acclimation of these miraculous animals," said Frank Murru, Chief Marine Officer, Kerzner International.

The two mothers and fourteen of their fellow Dolphin Cay residents, were stranded or swept to sea when their former home at the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, was destroyed during the infamous Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The dolphins were rescued and nursed back to health, then transported to Atlantis to fully recover and reside in the new state-of-the-art habitat.

All of the Dolphin Cay residents live in eleven interconnected pools containing nearly seven million gallons of crystal-clear seawater, and are cared for night and day by a team of over 55 marine mammal specialists.

"We are proud to say our facility is one of the largest man-made dolphin habitats in the world" said Teri Corbett, Vice President of Marine Mammal Operations. "This along with our state-of-the-art quarantine facility allows us the proper space to safely care for beached or stranded animals and pregnant or nursing mothers."

The residents of Dolphin Cay are all Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, who breathe air through blowholes located on the top of their heads. The average gestation period for a Bottlenose Dolphin is 12 months. At the end of this period, they give birth to live young, called calves.

The calf, born with sparse hair on its rostrum, is a mammal and will nurse from its mother for 12-18 months. The calf will begin to eat fish at 4-5 months of age. At birth, the average Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin is three feet long and weighs about 40 pounds.

White Chinese dolphin is threatened of extinction

Since 2004 28 Chinese White Dolphins have been found dead in Hong Kong waters. Lab tests found significant amounts of pollutants in the carcasses. Many groups blame the problem on high pollution levels in local coastal waters and call for action to remedy the situation.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In the past three years, 28 white dolphins have been found dead in Hong Kong waters, a report to the Territory’s legislative council (LegCo) said. For Choy So-yuk, a LegCo member with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, damages to dolphins’ natural habitat are to be blamed for the deaths.

“The carcass of a Chinese white dolphin was found off the Butterfly Beach at Tuen Mun in February this year. As no visible injury was found on the dolphin, it is not ruled out that its death was caused by excessive accumulation of heavy metals in its body,”' Mr Choy said.

In replying to the LegCo member, Hong Kong’s Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung said that about 200 Chinese white dolphins lived in waters in and around the territory. Of these, 28 were found dead, including 12 adults, in the past three years, five in 2006, 13 in 2005 and 10 in 2004.

Most of the dolphins live near the Pearl River estuary. Many of those that died “were mainly found in the waters and along the coast of Lantau Island, Tuen Mun, Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau,” Ms Liao said. However, she added that most carcasses did not have excessive levels of contamination.

The Territory’s Agricultural Fisheries and Conservation Department in 2005 commissioned the City University of Hong Kong to conduct a two-year study into heavy metals and organic contamination in dolphins. In an earlier study it examined liver tissue samples from 25 Chinese White Dolphins and found that their level of heavy metal contaminants was within norm.
The carcass found in February was so badly decomposed that the cause of death could not be determined, Ms Liao said.

None the less, she informed the council that the territorial government was planning a dolphin conservation programme, which would include monitoring dolphins’ numbers and distribution on a long-term basis, assessing heavy metals and organic contaminants in dolphin carcasses, establishing marine parks to protect them and their habitat, and working with Guangdong authorities to protect dolphins in the Pearl River Estuary.

According to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, the territory’s dolphin population has declined considerably in the last decade. Its website speaks of a 40 per cent drop between 1996 and 2005.

For the society's, the main culprit is the dredging work carried out to build Chek Lap Kok Airport. The reclamation project, which led to the airport opening in 1998, caused widespread damage to the marine habitat.

“Reclamation devastates coastal ecology and reduces the amount of fish available to dolphins to feed on,” the society said.

Injuries from ship propellers as well as sea-borne pollution are also a threat.

The World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong also blamed dredging related to reclamation work for the dolphins’ predicament, lamenting that “dredging for West Kowloon reclamation resulted in millions of tonnes of toxic mud needing a disposal site.” And “once again,” it said, “an important area for dolphins was chosen to dump the waste.”

The WWF warned that toxic materials can enter the dolphins' food chain, leading to “heavy metals and other pollutants accumulating in their bodies.”

The Chinese White Dolphin is found in coastal waters in many Asian countries, including the Arab states and Malaysia.

Dolphin's specie survival is at stake in New Zealand

Population fragmentation. It doesn’t exactly pack the same punch as “extinction”. But for New Zealand’s South Island Hector’s dolphin and North Island Maui’s dolphin — one of the rarest marine dolphin species in the world — it could be catastrophic. “Numbers of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are now so low that populations are starting to fragment,” explains marine biologist Dr Steve Dawson, associate professor at New Zealand’s Otago University.

“As populations shrink you get small groups of dolphins which are isolated from each other and they literally become fewer and further between. Lose one of those surviving groups and you lose a vital link to the next.”Dubbed the “kiwis of the sea”, Hector’s dolphin numbers (both North Island and South Island populations) have plummeted from over 26,000 in the 1970s to just over 7,000 today. Maui’s dolphins, a subspecies of the Hector's, are faring even worse and are now critically endangered with a population of just 110 individuals.

Without immediate protection, Maui’s may become extinct within a generation.Fragmentation is the path to extinction, according to marine scientists, and for the Maui’s in particular, this is a very real possibility. “These animals don’t range very far, so as the distance between groups grows, the chances of those groups interacting, breeding and surviving becomes more remote,” says Dr Dawson. “The reality is their future survival is dependent on our actions today.”

Close to shoreMaui’s dolphins live off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and are usually found in isolated pockets within 10km of the shore. During summer they are even closer, moving to within 1.85km (1 nautical mile) of the coast in search of food.Although found so close to shore, tracking Maui’s dolphins by sight remains problematic.

Aerial surveys and sound recordings are more reliable methods and are currently being used to find out more about this critically endangered dolphin.Recent sound recordings of the Maui’s dolphin conducted by Dr Dawson and other scientists from the University of Otago are providing new information about the Maui’s presence in harbours.“We now have scientific evidence to support the argument that Maui’s really are at risk of drowning in nets being used by fishers in harbours along the North Island’s west coast,” said WWF-New Zealand marine campaigner Rebecca Bird.

The results will contribute to learning more about the dolphin’s’ distribution and abundance and use of harbours, and will be used in WWF’s advocacy work, which seeks greater protection for the species.Public sightingsWWF, with help from researchers and Toyota New Zealand, has also developed a WWF Sightings Network in order to learn more about the dolphins’ movements from season to season. Data generated for the network by the public provide vital information that can be used to determine future research and management priorities, and returns responsibility for Maui’s back to the community.

“We believe people have an important role to play in saving Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins,” Bird explains. “The information we get from the public tells us where the dolphins are from season to season. At the end of the day, the responsibility for saving these iconic animals lies with all of us.” Returning from the brinkFishing in coastal areas is seen as the biggest threat to the dolphins, where they become entangled and drown in commercial and recreational set nets, or caught as accidental bycatch in fishing trawlers.

Add to this boat strikes, disturbances from tourism and increasingly polluted waters, and survival for the world’s rarest dolphins is a losing battle. To reverse the trend, WWF has been working to reduce the threats so that the species can return from the brink of extinction. “Our conservation challenge to the New Zealand government calls for an action plan for the recovery of the species, to address the causes of the dolphins’ decline,” says WWF-New Zealand Executive Director Chris Howe.

“We envision a future where Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin numbers increase, where they recover to their natural historic range and where population fragmentation is reduced. That means ending fishing-related bycatch, protecting their habitats and reducing marine pollution.”By law, the New Zealand government is required to protect its native flora and fauna. Although the government has introduced interim protection measures and set net bans are in place in some areas, it has yet to develop a comprehensive action plan for the dolphins’ recovery.

“If we are serious about saving the species, we can’t deal in half measures,” stresses Howe. “We need a total ban on set netting and trawling where the dolphins range. “We still have a chance to save these unique creatures,” he adds, “but we have to act now to make sure New Zealand doesn’t become the first nation to drive a marine dolphin species to extinction.”

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Beached dolphin returns to pod...with a little help!

A dolphin has been returned to a pod after beaching herself at Misty Cliff near Scarborough in the Cape Peninsula, said a Kommetjie vet on Saturday.

Michele Ledger said the dolphin had been found by fishermen early on Saturday morning.

The fishermen called surfers to help keep the dolphin upright and afloat until they could return her to the sea.

Ledger said that because of the high impact of the waves the dolphin had to be carried quite a distance to a boat slipway where it was calmer.

"We tried to swim her out, but she became confused and disorientated and tried to swim back to shore," said Ledger.

Started calling and calling

The dolphin was loaded on to a boat and taken out to sea after fishermen said they had seen a pod of dolphins offshore.

"Apparently she started going crazy on the boat, calling and calling."

Ledger said the best chances of the dolphin's survival would be to stay with the wild pod or she might become confused and beach herself again.

She said it was not known why the dolphin beached herself.

Kids help rescue dolphin

Children at the Kidz@Play Club in Peterhead carried out a sea rescue mission last week.
The youngsters helped British Deep Sea Marine Rescue crew to save an inflatable whale that had become trapped at the club.

As well as carrying out the rescue operation the kids were also given instruction on how to deal with all manner of sea life that can be found in the local area.

The day's activity is designed to help children appreciate local marine wildlife and to develop a passion and a love for it. Kidz@Play Out of School Club provides before and after school care for children aged 3 to 16 years old.

Clare Melvin (12) said: "We have learned how to save and rescue whales, dolphins and seals. It has been good fun and we have learned a lot."

Deaf dolphin's calf growing and possibly hearing already, in utero

Officials at a Florida Keys marine mammal rehabilitation facility initiated a dolphin “chat line” of sorts today.

The officials are hoping a pregnant deaf dolphin's calf will learn to communicate with other dolphins after it is born.

Castaway, as the stranded Atlantic bottlenose dolphin is named, has been convalescing at the Marine Mammal Conservancy since January 30th.

After a battery of tests, National Marine Fisheries Service confirmed marine mammal experts' diagnosis that the dolphin is deaf and cannot be released back into the wild.

Now, experts are electronically connecting Castaway's habitat with a lagoon at Dolphins Plus, a research and interactive educational facility a few miles down the Keys Overseas Highway.

Underwater speakers and microphones were installed at both locations and connected via phone lines donated by ATT Florida.

Dolphins need to hear in order to utilize dolphin sonar.

Even though the calf is unborn, officials believe it can already hear.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Let's put a stop to dolphins slaughtering!

AUSTRALIANS are flocking to back a global campaign begging Japan to stop its brutal slaughter of dolphins and whales.

At the forefront of the push is a video circulating the internet that graphically portrays the inhumane killing of dolphins by the Japanese for meat and "research", accompanied by a petition which has already attracted more than a million signatures.

You can view the clip and sign the petition by following the link below.

Narrated by Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix, the disturbing film shows hundreds of dolphins being slaughtered in the Japanese port of Taiji. In scenes reminiscent of the "scientific" killing of whales by the Japanese which continues to cause waves of outrage around the world, the footage shows the endangered mammals being round up, hacked with knives and writhing to death on a bloody factory floor.

Do you think the video and petition are the best way to convince Japan to stop its practices? Are the Japanese entited to kill whales and dolphins? Tell us your views via the feedback form below.
This week, more than one million signatures had been collected by the video’s author, Pedro Oliveira, who is petitioning the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to stop the slaughter.

“Corralling the dolphins into bays, then making them suffer a long and painful death by spears, hooks, and drowning is an inhumane way of fishing,” Oliveira’s petition states. “We demand that Japan permanently and immediately renounce and stop this slaughter. We will work diligently to bring this issue to international light until you have ceased your reprehensible violence.”

Hundreds of Australians have now added their names to the list, joining concerned citizens from all over the world. Jason Doudle, 28, from Australia writes: “I have lived in Japan and I respect and honour your people and culture, but this cruel practice has to STOP!!” Dolphin meat, a delicacy, is often mislabelled as whale meat to attract a higher price in Japan. It is eaten in a 'sukuyaki' pot, or as raw sashimi. The Japanese currently kill 20,000 whales and dolphins a year.

The fishermen circle a pod of dolphins and injure a few captives by spear thrust or knife slash to retain the group, as dolphins will never abandon an injured family member. Hard-line conservationists from Sea Shepherd and other animal rights groups say they have been banned from approaching or filming in the areas where dolphins are killed. Since September 2004, Sea Shepherd has offered a reward of $10,000 to encourage people, including citizens of Japan, to document the killing.

To view the confronting film
click here.

Sign the petition

Hector and Maui dolphins future depend on New Zealand's protective laws and regulations

Hector’s and Maui’s survival in Kiwi hands, says WWF.

WWF is today launching an online petition to demand Helen Clark introduces emergency measures to protect Aotearoa/New Zealand’s iconic Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.
Without immediate protection, the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin could be extinct within a generation.

Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are only found in New Zealand and have been dubbed the “kiwis of the sea”. Like their terrestrial namesake, their numbers have plummeted – thirty years ago there were over 26,000 Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Today, due to human activity, there is a struggling population of around 7,270 Hector’s dolphins – and Maui’s are the rarest marine dolphins in the world with around 110 left. Hector’s dolphins are internationally listed as endangered and Maui’s as critically endangered.

But unlike the kiwi, the government has never implemented a species recovery plan for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Consequently, as threats continue to increase, dolphin numbers are continuing to decline. If Maui’s die out, New Zealand will become the world’s first developed nation to drive a marine dolphin to extinction. If this happens, it would put clean, green New Zealand on equal footing with China which is thought to have driven theYangtze River dolphin to extinction.

WWF’s petition to demand immediate protection for Hector’s and Maui’s officially launches today,
WWF-New Zealand’s Executive Director Chris Howe is confident the petition will gather enough support to motivate the government to take action: “We’re urging all New Zealanders who are proud of their national marine taonga to show their support and sign our petition. We will personally present the petition to Helen Clark to convince her that New Zealanders care passionately about our native wildlife and want a future where Hector’s and Maui’s live and thrive in our coastal waters.”

WWF is asking New Zealanders to sign the petition online at The petition is calling for the government to:

- Implement an effective action plan for the recovery of the species- Introduce a total ban on set nets within the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

- Introduce a total ban on trawling in nearshore waters shallower than 100 meters in depth- Identify, manage and mitigate all other potential threats to Hector’s and Maui’s to ensure their future survival and recovery.

In November 2004, WWF officially challenged the government to introduce a recovery plan to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.

“We presented rigourous scientific research that clearly showed Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are being killed by human activity faster than they can breed,” explains WWF’s Chris Howe. “We challenged the government to respond within six months. Two and a half years later, dolphin numbers are still declining and the government has yet to act. We need the New Zealand public to sign our online petition and demand the government take action now. The situation is critical, but there is still hope. If we act now to remove all possible threats to the dolphins, we have the chance to save these charismatic animals which are part of our national identity.”

The latest figures from the Department of Conservation show there were four Maui’s reported dead this summer. WWF marine campaigner Rebecca Bird explains the significance of such a death toll for the species: “Four dead Maui’s in five months is simply unsustainable for this critically endangered species. And these are just the reported incidents – actual deaths are likely to be higher. This is a species that has a very slow breeding rate. A female will have just one calf every three years, and only three to four calves in their entire lifetime.

“If you do the maths, there are only around 110 Maui’s and half of these are likely to be female. Half of those females will be of breeding age. So that’s around 25 to 28 breeding females, which only just qualifies as a viable population. The future survival of Maui’s is critically dependent on so few dolphins - just one death is enough to tip the balance. It really brings home how urgent the situation is and why we need to pull out all the stops now to turn this around.”

For more information, and to sign WWF’s petition go to


Note to editors: WWF is now known simply by its initials and the panda logo. If using a descriptor please use: WWF, the global conservation organisation.

Background information:

- Maui’s dolphins are the genetically distinct North Island sub-species of the South Island Hector’s dolphins. Since the 1970s, numbers of Hector’s and Maui’s has dropped from over 26,000 to approximately 7,270 Hector’s and 110 Maui’s dolphins today.

-The 2007 Department of Conservation figures show that there have been four Maui’s dolphins reported dead over the summer (from Nov. 06 to date).

- Maui’s dolphins only live in coastal waters from Dargaville to Taranaki. - Tourism, boat traffic and pollution are threats to Maui’s and Hector’s dolphin. The largest threat to the species is commercial and recreational fishing.

- WWF led a group of NGOs in November 2004 setting the government a Conservation Challenge for the recovery of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.

- The government responded with interim measures, but has yet to respond with a Threat Management Plan. WWF is concerned that when a plan is produced, it will be too little too late.

- WWF is today launching an online petition for New Zealanders to sign to ask the government for a comprehensive plan to save the species.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"