Today will see the publication of the latest IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which will recognise more animal and plant species as threatened with extinction than ever before.
Native only to New Zealand, Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are the rarest dolphin species on earth.
Monday’s Red List will once again confirm their respective status as Endangered and Critically Endangered, which earns them the prospect of impending extinction.
Gill netting and trawling are the chief threats to the survival of these animals. Recent announcements to extend no-fishing zones and improve controls by the New Zealand government are significant steps forward.
But the fishing industry does not accept the precarious conservation status of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins and has said it will challenge the Government in court.
Since the introduction of nylon filament nets in the 1970s, Hector’s dolphin numbers have dropped from 29,000 to less than 8,000.
Hector’s dolphins can not sustain more than 10 deaths a year, but between 110 and 150 animals die in commercial gillnets. The situation for Maui’s dolphins, a subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, is even worse. Ninety percent are already lost, and a mere 111 animals survive.
Maui’s dolphins will become extinct if more than one animal is killed every 5-7 years. But at least 12 animals have died in the past 7 years.
Care for the Wild International’s (CWI) Chief Executive Dr Barbara Maas, says, “New Zealand’s fishing industry has tried to use the courts to get in the way of protection for these supremely vulnerable animals in the past. It lost the case, but last month industry lawyers obtained an injunction on fishing restrictions that would increase the dolphins’ chance of survival and were set to come into force this week.
“With a breathtaking disregard for science, public opinion, New Zealand’s reputation and one of the rarest animals on earth, the fishing industry seems determined to continue killing Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins faster than they can breed.”
CWI says that after years of consultation, working group meetings and research the protection measures announced in May would at best hold populations at severely depleted levels.
“Fishing industry representatives have participated in these discussions from the outset,” says Dr Maas, “but because they don’t like what is already a poor compromise for the dolphins, they now want to run rough-shod over the entire process. In doing so the industry yet again displays utter contempt for the New Zealand public, 83% of which is in favour of even stronger protection measures. It is also willing to squander precious government resources and taxpayers money by dragging this case into court.
The IUCN consists of more than 1,000 governmental and non-governmental member organizations, as well as 10,000 scientists from over 160 countries. But, says CWI, New Zealand’s fishing industry is adamant that it is better informed.