New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphins could face extinction by 2031, new research shows.
International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientists are scheduled to discuss the plight of the last 50 Maui’s dolphins again at their meeting in Bled, Slovakia this week.
With less than 15 breeding females, Maui’s dolphins are among the rarest and most endangered mammals. Researchers claim fishing has progressively decimated numbers from around 1800 individuals in the 1970s to just 50 and the death of more than one individual every 10-23 years will have devastating consequences for the entire population.
Thomas Tennhardt, chief executive of the conservation group NABU International, says New Zealand is ignoring urgent calls by international scientific groups to immediately prohibit the use of gill and trawl nets in Maui’s habitat to reduce by-catch to zero.
In 2012, a Government appointed panel determined that gillnets and trawling kill five Maui’s dolphins each year and extensions to fisheries exclusion zones introduced since then have reduced the bycatch to 3.28.
Endangered species spokeswoman Barbara Maas says the data indicates Maui’s dolphins may become extinct as early as 2031. She says the increase in fisheries protection falls significantly short and at best delay the dolphins’ demise by 4-18 years.
“Current protection measures are an arbitrary mix of inconsistent and biologically meaningless fisheries exclusion zones,” adds Dr Maas.
“The data could not be any clearer. We know that dolphin populations this small can disappear very quickly. The Baiji or Chinese river dolphin was recently declared extinct. About 40 Baiji survived in 1998, but despite an extensive survey not a single individual could be found by 2006. It is inconceivable that Maui’s dolphins should follow suit.”