Protecting Hector's and Māui dolphins
We want to ensure the long-term survival of these unique marine mammals. Find out about the threat management plan, closed fishing areas, monitoring, and other protection efforts.
We are involved in several measures to protect Hector's and Māui dolphins, including:
- the threat management plan
- closing areas to fishing
- managing fishing-related threats
- research and monitoring
- marine protected areas and marine mammal sanctuaries (with the Department of Conservation)
In August 2007, the Ministry of Fisheries (now Fisheries New Zealand) and the Department of Conservation (DOC) released a threat management plan for these dolphins. This was in response to public and government concern over human-caused deaths among these species.
The plan looked at all known threats to the dolphins, including:
- oil and gas exploration
- boat strike
- pollution and plastic bags
- climate change
In June 2020, the Minister of Fisheries made decisions on fisheries management components of a revised threat management plan.
Non-fishing related threats
The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages mainly non-fishing threats to Hector's and Māui dolphins.
The world's smallest and rarest dolphins
Hector's and Māui dolphins are only found in New Zealand's waters and look very different from other dolphins.
- are much smaller
- have a rounded, black dorsal fin
- have unique grey, white and black colouring.
While Hector's and Māui dolphins look identical, they are physically and genetically different. The dolphins only live for around 20 years and breed slowly. Females don't have their first calf until they are about 7 or 8 years old. They have a new calf only every 2 to 4 years. This means the species may be threatened by even occasional deaths caused by human activity.
- Most often found around the South Island.
- Classified as nationally endangered. Research from the Cawthron Institute in August 2016 estimated the total South Island population at almost 15,000. This is more than double previous estimates. The research has been peer-reviewed and endorsed by scientists from the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee.
- A sub-species living off the North Island's west coast.
- Classified as critically endangered, with about 63 individuals over one year old, based on an estimate from a 2015 and 2016 survey.
Both dolphins are mostly found within 7 nautical miles of the coast. However, recent population research on Hector's dolphins observed them out to 20 nautical miles.
- West Coast South Island Hector's dolphin abundance and distribution [PDF, 3.2 MB]
- East Coast South Island Hector's dolphin abundance and distribution [PDF, 3.3 MB]
- Supplementary material [PDF, 1.7 MB]
- West Coast North Island Māui dolphin abundance
Fishing is the greatest known human threat to Hector's and Māui dolphins. Set-nets are the biggest threat to the dolphins – they can get tangled in them and drown. Hector's dolphins have also been caught in trawl nets, but this happens less often.
We have set-net and trawling restrictions in place around the North and South islands to reduce the chances of entanglement.
- 8,000 square kilometres have trawl restrictions.
- 15,000 square kilometres are closed to set-netting.
- North Island closure map [PDF, 1.7 MB]
- South Island West Coast closure map [JPG, 7.5 MB]
- South Island South East Coast closure map [JPG, 7.4 MB]
New restrictions from 1 October 2020
On 1 October 2020, new measures will take effect restricting commercial and recreational set-net and commercial trawl fishing off the west coast of the North Island, and commercial and recreational set-net fishing off the north, south and east coasts of the South Island. In addition, drift netting will be prohibited in all New Zealand waters.
DOC has established 5 marine mammal sanctuaries in Hector's and Māui dolphin habitats. In these sanctuaries, DOC has restricted many activities, including
- seabed mining
- acoustic seismic survey work.
Fisheries New Zealand has monitoring and research programmes in place to help assess the effectiveness of current fishing restrictions. These programmes help inform whether more measures are needed.
Independent monitoring and research programmes are also carried out by external groups – like marine scientists.
Monitoring on the North Island's west coast
Since November 2019, on-board cameras have been in use on some commercial fishing vessels operating off the west coast of the North Island.
Observer coverage will continue on trawl vessels operating between Maunganui Bluff and Pariokariwa Point to test the effectiveness of on-board cameras and their ability to detect protected species interactions.
Protection measures for Māui dolphin [PDF, 1.7 MB]
Who to contact
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