Maui’s Dolphins are the smallest dolphins in the world measuring just about a metre and a half. But a new study warns that these unique creatures are on the verge of extinction with only 55 individuals remaining in the wild.
The miniature dolphins are a subspecies of the Hector’s Dolphins found only along the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. They are also known commonly as the popoto.
“Every day the animals are exposed to gill and trawl nets carries a risk we can’t afford. If ever there was a time to act, it is now,” said Dr. Barbara Maas, NABU International’s Head of International Species Conservation.
It was in 2005 that the population status of the dolphins was checked and at that time 111 individuals were counted. With the present 55 number, the population has halved in just 6-7 years.
Adding to the concern is the fact that within the small number only 20 of the dolphins are female and as they reproduce every 2-4 years, the population of the species may not rebound pretty quickly.
Some of the factors that are threatening the species are Coastal pollution, oil spills, plastic garbage which the dolphins mistake for squid, and competition with fishermen for food.
If New Zealand does not act soon to conserve and protect these dolphins, it might become the first nation in the world with an extinct marine dolphin.
“We can’t change our past to bring back species like the moa that are lost forever, but we must not, and will not, give up on our critically endangered dolphins,” said Rebecca Bird, WWF-New Zealand’s Marine Program Manager. “We know that solutions exist to save Maui’s, it is time the government acted on behalf of all New Zealanders to protect this precious national treasure.”
The government is now planning to ban nets and set up a marine sanctuary in a large part of the coastline to save the species.