Tomorrow is the deadline for comments to be submitted to New Zealand’s government to consider protecting the Maui’s dolphin–the smallest, rarest and most endangered marine dolphin in the world.
The issue has reached a hot crescendo in New Zealand. Twenty non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representing close to twelve million people worldwide drafted a Letter of Concern that was delivered to Prime Minister John Key and Ministers David Carter and Kate Wilkinson on April 3, urging the government to extend protection measures in order to reduce threats to Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins from fishing interactions – a move that could be key to enabling the dolphins’ crashing population levels to be restored.
Delivery of the letter was timed to coincide with a peaceful protest march led by (Whale Wars) Pete Bethune, and presentation of “Let’s Face It” – a visual petition organized by surfer, activist, and artist Peggy Oki made of printed posters representing over one thousand persons with pictures of Maui’s dolphins.
The unity and power of the coalition of NGOs is significant; the amalgam of groups representing countries from across the globe coalesced for many months to construct a clear and unified message to the NZ government: provide the additional protection needed to prevent the further imperilment and potential extinction of New Zealand’s “national treasure”, and prohibit gillnets and trawl nets throughout the extent of the dolphins’ range year-round.
While there has been push-back from those who support fishing interests, there is irrefutable proof that death by entanglement in gillnets is the major human-induced threat to the Maui’s existence.
From the letter of concern:
“As reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 60 percent of all dead Hector’s dolphins for which a cause of death could be determined died due to entanglement in gillnets. Deaths have occurred in ‘exemption’ areas [outlined in the Threat Management Plan TMP] – those parts of the range of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins where gillnets and trawl nets are still permitted”.
The Hector’s Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori) and subspecies Maui’s (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui), both critically endangered, are endemic to New Zealand. Populations have plummeted to critically low numbers over the past 30 years as demand for (rapidly diminishing) fish stocks increase. There are estimated to be between 48 to 68 Maui’s dolphins over the age of one remaining. Of those, there are less than 23 breeding females. The major factor of the Maui’s dolphin imminent – but easily preventable—extinction is that only a small part of their range is protected, despite strong words of warning from scientists and conservationists. New Zealand’s government continues to yield to the fishing industry lobby, sanctioning the use of trawl and gill net fishing in habitat that has been proven to be critical to the species’ survival. Further exacerbating the dive to extinction is the Maui’s reproductive rates. Females start to breed at 7 to 9 years old, and give birth to one calf every 2 to 4 years. Other factors weighing heavy on the tiny population include habitat degradation, pollution, boat strikes, aquaculture, marine and sand mining, oil and gas exploration, tidal energy generation and coastal development.
NZ’s Department of Conservation (DOC) has extended the public comment period to tomorrow, seeking submissions on the intention to redefine the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary to further protect the nationally critical Maui’s dolphin population; to consider views on extending the seismic survey regulations into the area, and to review the Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan with a focus on threat mitigation and research priorities for the Maui’s dolphins in 2012, rather than 2013 as originally proposed.
Of concern to many Maui’s campaigners is the curiously meager coverage by major US major media despite resounding popularity and ubiquitous campaigns, petitions and calls to action. The New York Times published piece about tourism in New Zealand entitled “A Man A Van A Plan” which struck the nerves of many conservationists who claimed that tourists who eat NZ fish are contributing to the Maui’s extinction by supporting the fishing industry. And, a quarter-page photo and caption about Hector’s dolphins was published in the April 9 TIME magazine, but both of these publications fell short of broadcasting the urgency of the issue or the actions that had taken place less than a week prior. Other campaigns such as NABU Foundation’s Hectors and Mauis SOS; Let’s face It! visual petition by Founder and Director Peggy Oki; Will Trubridge world freediving champion video; Facebook Urgent! International Campaign to Save our Maui’s Dolphins!; threats of of a boycott of NZ tourism and consumption of all NZ fish have been building feverish momentum, but will it all be in vain?
For more than three decades, gill and trawl nets have been killing Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins faster than they can breed. The Maui’s dolphin could easily be the first marine cetacean to become extinct. In 2007, China’s Yangtze River dolphin was declared “functionally extinct”—the first dolphin to be driven to extinction from our planet by human activity. But the war to fend off extinction of marine animals is not fought only on distant shores; since 1970, titanic funding and colossal efforts and collaborations by US federal, state, private, corporate, local and nonprofit organizations as well as volunteer groups and individuals have amassed enormous protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis whose numbers are estimated to be between 300- 400.
North Atlantic right whales have fallen victim to many similar threats as have the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins on the other side of the world. Massachusetts residents and visitors are well aware of, and supplement the cost of, measures being taken to prevent right whales’ extinction. NMFS has taken both regulatory and non-regulatory steps to reduce the threat of ship collisions, including: Mandatory vessel speed restrictions in Seasonal Management Areas; Voluntary speed reductions in Dynamic Management Areas and a seasonal Area To Be Avoided; Recommended shipping routes; Modification of international shipping lanes; Aircraft surveys and right whale alerts; Ship speed advisories; Mandatory Ship Reporting Systems; Outreach and Education and Stranding response. NMFS designated critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale in 1994 (59 FR 28805). There are two critical habitat areas in the North Atlantic: the Northeast and Southeast US, extending from wintering and calving areas in coastal waters off the southeastern United States to summer feeding and nursery grounds in New England waters and north to the Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf. View maps of the Northeast U.S. and Southeast U.S. critical habitats. (Source: NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/rightwhale_northatlantic.htm)
Important to note is that requests for many of these protections were initiated by concerned citizens. Just as the US has done, will the NZ government do what is necessary to prevent the extirpation of the Maui’s dolphin, or will they ignore American Cetacean Society, Greenpeace, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Animal Welfare Institute, Cetacean Society International, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Origami Whales Project, Nantucket Marine Mammal Conservation Program, Whaleman, WSPA, Humane Society International, NRDC, Blue Voice.org, Save the Whales Again!, Whales Need US, Project Jonah New Zealand, earthrace Conservation New Zealand, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society New Zealand and others representing twelve million voices worldwide, opting instead to turn a blind eye to science and the will of millions of people?
Readers may sign on to petitions and action pages to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins below.
A copy of the NGO Letter of Concern can be accessed at hectorsdolphins.com
Additional information links here
NZ Department of Conservation Proposed interim extension of the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary
Supplement to the Gazette (PDF, 75K)
Map of the proposed extension (PDF, 459K)
For more information on what the extension to the sanctuary involves:
Download the consultation document (PDF, 157K)
How to make a submission
Submissions should be made by email by 27 April 2012 to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Conservation extension of deadline to 27 April
x Ray Magazine March 27 2012
Science Media Center March 14 2012
March 14 2012 Yahoo News
Huffington Post March 22 and 26 2012
Dr. Elizabeth Slooten, Peggy Oki and Scott Leonard contributed to this article