Hector’s dolphins rarer than kiwis


by Ines Stager

The first time we saw dolphins in the wild was when we came to New Zealand in the early ’80s.

It was an awesome experience and remains that way whenever we get a chance to see some along our coastline here in South Canterbury or elsewhere.

Unfortunately, New Zealand or Hector’s and Maui dolphins are now rarer than kiwis. Maui dolphin, the North Island subspecies, is critically endangered. The numbers have fallen to less than 10% of the original population and stand at about 60 animals.

With about 10,000 dolphins, the South Island subspecies is now less than 30% of its original population, and continues to decline.

Dolphins only live to about 25 years, and their reproductive rate is very slow. Female dolphins can expect a first calf at 7-9 years of age

They generally have one calf every two to four years after that.

This equates to an overall population growth rate of about 2%, which means that a population of 100 dolphins can grow by two individuals at the most in any one year.

They are very vulnerable to human impacts. The main threats to dolphins are set-netting and trawling. Commercial fishing is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of marine mammals and thousands of seabirds every year.

New Zealand has a clear choice to make. We can change the way we do things and save Maui dolphins, or we can be the generation that allows them to go extinct, Forest & Bird says of the Department of Conservation and MPIs recently released threat management plan proposals. While the proposal offers protection over the core area of Maui dolphin habitat from trawl and set net fishing, the management plan does not allow for extensions. Furthermore, and sadly, the plan makes exemptions for oil exploration and mining and this is the case even inside marine reserves.

What will need to happen to reverse the trend towards extinction?

Fishing should take place away from where protected animals forage. Safe, modern fishing methods should be used to only catch what we eat, not dolphins, penguins, coral, or other protected wildlife. The fishing standards and rules need to reduce the chance of killing protected species.

The Government has adopted a zero bycatch approach for Hector’s and Maui dolphins. This approach is needed for other species. Until this is actioned, there is no safe haven for some of New Zealand’s most incredible wildlife species. Submissions on the threat management plan are due by August 4. For more information on this, see the link below:


Forest and Bird has launched a Zero Bycatch campaign and the response has been positive, here is a chance to put your name to it: https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/petitions/sign-zero-bycatch-pledge

  • Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.

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