We are helping to save the Māui dolphins, found only off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island

Maui dolphins New Zealand, image copyright DOC Govt NZ

Proud to be playing a small part in helping save the Māui dolphins through WWF New Zealand, by donating every month.

They are unique to New Zealand and need our support. The world’s smallest dolphin, they are friendly and playful, with distinctive black Mickey-Mouse-ear dorsal fins.

They could disappear forever – unless we all act now. Scientists have estimated that there are just 63 adult Māui dolphins surviving today. That is a dangerously low number, and they could become extinct shortly.

The Māui dolphin population has plummeted from around 1500 in the 1970s when deadly set nets (also known as gillnets) were widely introduced to our waters. More recently, new threats like the disease toxoplasmosis have emerged – and might even now be an even bigger threat than fishing.

It is still possible to save them. The best available science shows that all human threats need to be reduced by 50 – 75% within ten years. This means the Government needs to take immediate action to support affected people and communities to move to methods of fishing that are safe for dolphins and address threats of toxoplasmosis.

Less than 30% of their habitat has any real protection.

To ensure their survival, Māui dolphins need to be protected wherever they swim.

This requires protection from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui River mouth, including harbours, out to 100 metres deep. 

Different kinds of protection may be needed in different places, including fisheries closures, banning seismic blasting, banning seabed mining, and increasing observer and camera coverage.

Now, less than 30% of their habitat is protected from set nets, and less than 8% is protected from both set nets and conventional trawling – but more than 30% is permitted for oil and gas exploration!

New science and innovation will also play a critical part. From drone technology to better study the dolphins to new kinds of fishing nets that are safe for dolphins, innovation will be key. 

Toxoplasmosis especially requires more scientific investigation and action.

Maui Dolphin Habitat

Māui dolphins are unique

Māui dolphins, Cephalorhynchus hectori maui, were recognised as a distinct subspecies of Hector’s dolphins in 2002, as a result of genetic research by New Zealand scientist Dr Alan Baker.

Before then, they were called the North Island Hector’s dolphin.

The dolphins’ common name is Māui, after the Māori name for the North Island – te Ika a Māui. They are also known as Māui dolphins. Usage WWF now favours in line with the Department of Conservation. The Māori name for Māui dolphins is popoto.

Māui dolphins are the world’s rarest

With a total population estimated at about 63 adults, Māui dolphins are the world’s rarest marine dolphin. The Department of Conservation in 2016 released a new “abundance estimate”, estimating that there were 63 Māui dolphins over the age of one year, with a 95% confidence interval of 57-75, meaning scientists are 95% sure that there are between 57 and 75 individuals excluding calves. The previous abundance estimate was 55, but as the confidence intervals for each estimate overlap, this does not mean the population has stabilised or increased.

It is doubtful that more than 10 calves exist at any given time with a population level this low. It also means there needs to be about 20 mature adult females (over 7 years of age) for the population to recover.

Source: WWF New Zealand