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We’ve won protection for Māui and Hector’s dolphins, but is it enough?

After decades of our campaigning, the New Zealand government has finally released the Threat Management Plan (TMP) for the Māui and Hector’s dolphins who live only around this country’s shores. It’s more protection than these dolphins have ever had before and we are grateful to the New Zealand government for pushing hard for these changes, but will this be enough to save the dolphins and prevent the suffering of each dolphin who dies in a net?...

The NZ government want to know what you think. Ask them for more protection for these dolphins.

Fishing nets have pushed the little Māui dolphins to the brink of extinction – there are fewer than 60 left – and their cousins the Hector’s dolphins are dying in fishing nets at an unsustainable rate. Their numbers began plummeting in the 1970s as plastic nylon netting began rapidly expanding around New Zealand.

Not only is fishing in the dolphins’ home pushing them to extinction, but every single dolphin who dies in a fishing net suffers horribly. Like you, dolphins breathe air and so when trapped under water in a net, unable to breathe, a desperate struggle to escape ensues, potentially leading to lacerations, broken bones and teeth and eventually suffocation. This isn’t just a matter of saving a species from extinction, it’s about recognising and addressing the pain and suffering experienced by every individual dolphin.

A New Zealand dolphin trapped in a net
Fishing nets have pushed these little dolphins to the brink of extinction - please help us save them

We have been pushing for proper protection for these dolphins for decades (see timeline below for an at-a-glance view of our efforts since the late 1990s) and have faced government inaction for most of that time. Now, finally, with your help we have progress and while this is cause to celebrate, it doesn’t go far enough.

WDC played a significant role in pushing for the TMP to be as strong as possible. WDC’s Philippa Brakes based in NZ and Mike Bossley based in Australia made a number of representations to government officials and politicians over these past years. WDC supporters also played a critical, part by contributing to a petition with over 40,000 signatures asking the government to do the right thing by these tiny dolphins and by taking part in the government’s public consultation on its plans to protect them. Children played a big part by sending thousands of lovely coloured drawings of the dolphins to the minister for conservation.

So, what was the final result of all this effort from you and WDC?

The TMP does represent a substantial improvement in protecting both Māui and Hectors dolphins. In particular, we are very happy to see the extension of protection for Māui dolphins on the West Coast of the North Island; the ban on set nets at the top of the South Island; and the expansion of protections on the East Coast of the South Island. The government has also promised to compensate fishers for loss of income or other hardship associated with the new measures, something we think is a legitimate concession.

WDC congratulates the government for all the improvements we have listed above.

However, and it is a big however...

We have serious concerns that the improvements arising from the new TMP do not go nearly far enough. For many years WDC has been calling for the banning of trawling and set netting around all current and historic Māui and Hector’s habitat out, seaward, to the 100m depth contour. The new TMP, whilst expanding protected areas up and down the coast does not expand out to sea and so does not go even close to meeting that requirement .

One of the major aspects of our campaign in NZ was to make it safer for Hector’s dolphins to cross Cook Strait between the South and North Islands. If the Māui dolphins are to survive it is probably necessary for them to breed with, and their numbers to be bolstered by, the very similar Hector’s dolphins from the South Island. Banning set netting in the waters at the top of the South Island is a good start but trawling is still permitted and there is no protection in Cook Strait.

We are also concerned about some of the vague promises relating to the TMP. In order to know whether fishing vessels are complying with the new regulations it is imperative that their activities are monitored. The government has promised to install cameras on all vessels to enable detection of any dolphins caught as bycatch but has not issued a timetable for their installation, nor provided details on how compliance will be ensured. The government promised that cameras would be installed several years ago, and this has still not come to pass.

Overall, if you got involved with this campaign and took part in our actions, you should feel proud to know you have helped achieve important improvements to the protection of New Zealand’s unique dolphins – these dolphins are better off because of our efforts - but we have to realise that there is still a long way to go to achieve all the protection they need and deserve.

Take action now by responding to the NZ government’s latest public consultation.

It’s easy and we’ve provided a guide for what you should say.

Thank you for your brilliant support.

How did we achieve this together?

It's been a long and hard fought campaign, but here's how we got here...

July 2020








Campaign success! The government finally announces new protection measures. We celebrate but still more needs to be done.

November 2019...

We placed full page campaign ads in New Zealand newspapers.



October 2019...








We launched a petition on New Zealand campaign site, Action Station, recruiting almost 10,000 people to send emails directly to Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

August 2019...

We launched a social media campaign asking famous New Zealanders and members of the public to show their support.

August 2019...








We met with Conservation Minister, Eugenie Sage to discuss our campaign and the urgent action that’s needed to protect the dolphins.

July 2019...

Our supporters took part in the NZ government’s public consultation demonstrating once and for all that people in New Zealand and all over the world want to protect these dolphins

June 2019

WDC's Philippa Brakes and Gemma McGrath talk with Jane Goodall about our campaign to save New Zealand dolphins

We met with influential individuals such as Jane Goodall and New Zealand MPs to get their much-needed support.



Our parliamentay briefing

We stepped up the lobbying, producing a briefing for MPs and other stakeholders and bringing allies from other leading charities on board demonstrating authority and strength in numbers.


Children got involved colouring our action posters which we presented to the conservation minister.


A new Labour-led coalition government was elected, with a cabinet including a Green Party conservation minister, and the time was right to redouble our efforts. We launched a major international campaign and petition attracting more than 40,000 signatures.


General election year so we threw ourselves into showing the parties that if elected, they needed to act. We ran workshops and media briefings and met with each of the parties. Things ground to a halt when the dolphin-unfriendly National Party was elected.


We worked with economists and revealed that  commercial fishing in New Zealand is worth up to $1.5 billion NZD a year, but tourism, including dolphin watching, brings in a whopping $24 billion.


We commissioned an independent survey and found that 80% of New Zealanders supported strong measures to protect the dolphins and the majority were willing to pay more for fish if it helped the dolphins.


We held events for decision-makers and influencers to educate and push for action


We engaged leading New Zealand dolphin scientist, Dr Liz Slooten, to map out where protection and fishing restrictions are needed.


We funded Dr Andy Read, a leading expert on dolphin entanglement, to speak to politicians, officials, scientists and conservationists all over New Zealand about the plight of the dolphins.


We joined forces with other NZ organisations and funded a campaigning and education tour of New Zealand to raise public awareness and support.

Late 1990s/early 2000s

New Zealand dolphin in net

We funded the early research that identified the issues faced by the dolphins.

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