Update: Maui’s Dolphins

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Early in June this year, considerable media attention was given to new research showing that the population of New Zealand’s Maui’s Dolphins had dropped to below 50. On 4th June, in Maui’s Dolphins: Shamefully Endangered, it was reported that the New Zealand government had declined to comment, awaiting the official International Whaling Commission report and recommendations before responding. On 19th June, that report was released and expressed “grave concern” for the species while reiterating its recommendations of 2014, including the banning all trawling and set-net activities within the dolphins’ habitat, and expressing a renewed sense of urgency.

The Committee again urges the New Zealand Government to commit to specific population increase targets and timelines, and again, respectfully requests that reports be provided annually on progress towards conservation goals.http://www.wwf.org.nz/?12821/IWC

The report and its recommendations have so far been met with political silence, both from the National Party and all the opposition. The last time the matter was raised in parliament was on 28th May this year. The parliamentary questions directed to Maggie Barry, the government’s Minister of Conservation, recorded in full below, are a useful insight into the level of distain which the government has for the current research and the 2015 IWC REPORT and highlights that their priority in not the conservation of the animal but protection of commercial enterprise in the area.

Parliament Hansard – 28 May 2015
 
This off-hand dismissal of the IWC and its scientific reporting is in direct contrast to the government’s support of the organisation when it comes to its stance against Japanese whaling expeditions. On the official website of the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the International Whaling Commission is described as, “the international body with management responsibility for the world’s great whales”, stating that, “New Zealand and many other IWC members believe that the Commission should have responsibility for the management of all whales and dolphins.” It adds that, “New Zealand is a firm supporter of the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling which became effective in 1986. New Zealand also advocates for the creation of whale sanctuaries, including in the South Pacific and South Atlantic. New Zealand is strongly opposed to Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the North Pacific and Southern Ocean.” The entry concludes, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade cooperates closely with the Department of Conservation in developing policy on whale conservation.” It is an unfortunate hypocrisy that the Ministry of Conservation does not seem to share that willingness for co-operation when it comes to protecting our own species at home.

2nd July 2015

Maui’s Dolphins: Shamefully Endangered

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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