The International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee has held its annual meeting in San Diego this week. While much of the accompanying media has been concerned with Japan’s latest attempts to justify whaling as scientific research, some attention has also been given internationally to New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphins. Maui’s dolphins, only found in NZ waters, are a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin and are the smallest in the world. The latest research by NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) International Nature Conservation Foundation and Otago University, states that the current number of Maui’s dolphins is between 43 and 47, of which only 10-12 are adult females. As such, it is estimated that, unless immediate action is taken, the species will become extinct within the next 15 years.
A year ago, at the 2014 IWC meeting, the New Zealand government were urged to take increased action towards protecting the Maui’s dolphins but restrictions on fishing practices still only cover a small proportion of the dolphins’ territory: 20% of the habitat has gillnet restrictions and only 5% has trawling restrictions. Also, last June, just one week after the IWC’s warning, the government granted licenses for offshore oil and gas exploration in an area which included 3000sqkm of the Maui’s dolphin sanctuary.
This year at the IWC, the President of NABU International Nature Conservation Foundation Thomas Tennhardt, stated: “New Zealand has so far shirked its responsibility to protect the last Maui’s dolphins. For three years running, IWC scientists have urged the New Zealand government to ban the use of gillnets and trawling across their entire habitat. But New Zealand has stubbornly ignored the scientists and is selling out this rare species for short sighted economic reasons.” NABU International’s Head of Endangered species Conservation, Dr Barbara Maas added: “New Zealand has to stop placing the interests of the fishing industry above biodiversity conservation and finally protect the dolphins’ habitat from harmful fishing nets, seismic airgun blasts and oil and gas extraction. Unless this happens, Maui’s dolphin extinction is a matter of when, not if. But instead of taking action, the New Zealand government is celebrating the extension of gillnet restrictions by three percent back in 2012/13 as a conservation victory, although this merely delays the dolphins’ demise by a handful of years. The futile five-year research programme tabled by New Zealand at this year’s IWC Scientific Committee meeting is a further attempt to muddy the waters and play for time, which Maui’s dolphins can’t afford.”
Predictably, Seafood New Zealand’s chairman, George Clement, has called the predicted demise of the species an “exaggeration“, while the New Zealand government have declined to respond to this scathing indictment or comment on the matter until the IWC’s findings and recommendations are published later this month. The government could take affirmative action now and do something to repair New Zealand’s increasingly tarnished reputation as a ‘green’ nation. Instead, John Key and the National party’s continued inaction speaks volumes of their lack of genuine concern over conservation and environmental issues, only willing to curb industry when shamed into doing so on the international stage, and even then doing only as much as required to remove themselves from the spotlight.
For more information on Maui’s dolphins and to find out what can be done to pressure the New Zealand government into effective action: http://www.hectorsdolphins.com
4th June 2015