Last week, on the 22nd of February, two more New Zealand (Hector’s) dolphins died, entangled in a gill net washed ashore on a beach on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
The two dolphins were found near the Waimakariri River mouth some 30 km inside the northern limit of the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary. Under fisheries legislation, set netting is banned along most of the east coast of the South Island out to 4 nautical miles.
The populations of these dolphins, unique to New Zealand, are being rapidly depleted by being killed in nets. It has been estimated that in the early 1970s there were about 30,000 dolphins. This has now dwindled to about 7000, a huge decrease in such a short time span. These dolphins are listed as “Endangered”, with the population trend rated as “decreasing”, on the IUCN Red List.
WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, is currently in talks with New Zealand scientists, conservation groups and others to develop new proposals to provide effective habitat protection for these dolphins.
These two latest gillnet deaths put into perspective recent research by scientists from Otago University and NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, in New Zealand) that an estimated 23 Hector’s dolphins per year are still being caught in nets off the east coast of the South Island, based on observers placed on 13 percent of fishing vessels.
However, the absence of independent observers in other areas means that estimates elsewhere are unknown.
Unless stronger conservation measures are implemented very soon, the growing fear is that these dolphins are headed for extinction.