By Lindsay Wickman, DOC Intern
With an estimated 55 individuals remaining, Māui dolphin conservation is a daunting challenge. But DOC staff are working towards a goal: that someday they will once again be found up and down the North Island coastline.
During an internship last summer, I was able to talk with a range of DOC staff members about their work with Māui dolphins and hear their aspirations for the species.
There’s lots being done to set the stage for their recovery, including new awareness initiatives, work with organisations outside of DOC, and work being undertaken by the Māui Research Advisory Group.
“The Māui dolphin gives us something to work towards – keeps us all working harder… it makes us more innovative and inventive with new ideas,” says Katie Clemens-Seely, who has organised public submissions on Māui dolphin protection measures.
Māui dolphins are the smallest dolphins in the world – their babies are about the same size as a rugby ball! They’re also the rarest dolphins in the world, and currently found only along the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
Even though this unique and rare dolphin is right on our doorstep, general awareness for Māui dolphins is surprisingly low.
“There is a sense of helplessness by communities as to what they can do,” says Jack de Thierry, Partnerships Ranger in Hamilton. Jack thinks it could be because less people have seen them, compared to other endangered species in New Zealand.
“I think people who live in the area adjacent to Māui dolphins know about them, but given they are only present across a small part of our coast, I’d be surprised if there was a high awareness nationally” adds Thelma Wilson, Senior Biodiversity Ranger in Warkworth.
Threat Management Plan
The Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan, developed by DOC and the Ministry for Primary Industries has paved the way for better protection measures, and created a platform to raise awareness. It’s also helped us work better with others and create connections that were either lacking or patchy.
The Māui Research Advisory Group, created in 2013, is one of these connections. We are hopeful that the outcomes from this group will become a “guiding light” for how other organisations can contribute to research on the Māui dolphin.
Spreading the word
With all the great work happening, it’s really important that the general public get behind the issue too. Recovery of the Māui dolphin is only possible if the public get on board.
“Turning around their population decline would be a fantastic success story… but it’s really important to get everyone involved – because the issue is broader than a DOC issue, it’s a New Zealand issue,” says Will Arlidge, coordinator of the Research Advisory Group.
DOC’s Marine Team have been spreading the word through a revised website, the Māui Watch newsletter and social media. They’ve also created new awareness materials including a marine mammal sanctuary guide and children’s book.
DOC rangers are continuing to progress Māui conservation through promoting awareness on the ground.
In New Plymouth, DOC rangers are educating fisherman on the boat ramps to keep a look out for Māui dolphins in Taranaki, while in Auckland they’re educating surfers to start reporting sightings.
In Hamilton, DOC staff are organising a stall promoting Māui dolphin conservation at Raglan’s annual Māui dolphin day.
DOC staff are hoping that rescuing this dolphin from extinction will set a precedent for how the New Zealand public responds to other conservation challenges, and especially how we view the marine environment.
How you can help the Māui dolphin:
- Report sightings – DOC relies on public sightings to help inform where protection measures should be implemented.
- Educate yourself and stay informed on the Māui dolphin, and submit your opinion on public consultations.
- Spread the word about Māui dolphins to others.
- For more ideas, visit the DOC website.