20 Oct 2016

Slight increase in number of Māui's dolphins

10:50 am on 20 October 2016

A scientific survey of Māui's dolphin numbers has found only 63 adults remained in New Zealand waters.

Maui's dolphin.

Maui's dolphin. Photo: Earthrace Conservation/Liz Slooten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The preliminary results of the count carried out over the past two summers, represented a slight rise from a 2010-11 survery, which estimated there were 55 adults.

The critically endangered dolphin which is one of the world's smallest and rarest, and is now only found in shallow coastal waters off the North Island's west coast.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said the results showed Māui's dolphin numbers had stablised over the past five years.

But she said there was no dispute the population remained at a very low level.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the new figures were an encouraging sign the restrictions on fishing were having an effect.

"More than 1700 square kilometres off the west coast of the North Island have been closed to trawl net fishing since 2003, and over 6200 square kilometres closed to set netting," Mr Guy said.

The Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and researchers from Auckland and Oregon State Universities carried out the survey using a boat-based "mark-recapture" technique - taking genetic samples from encountered dolphins over two summers, then comparing results to count how many unique dolphins were spotted.

It follows a recent survey which found the population of Hector's dolphin was about 15,000 - more than double the previous estimate of 7000.

The full report from the survey will be published next month and used to inform the review of the Hector's and Māui's Dolphin Threat Management Plan scheduled for 2018.