The world's largest marine mammal conference has been told the New Zealand Government has left a rare type of dolphin on a definite path to extinction.
It is estimated there are only 55 Maui's dolphin, a sub-species of the Hector's dolphin and only found on the North Island of New Zealand, including 13 breeding females.
Moves to limit fishing to stop dolphin deaths are intensely contested by environmental groups, the fishing industry and the Government.
About 1100 marine scientists and conservationists are attending the 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, which began in Dunedin on Monday.
Professor Steve Dawson from Otago University told those gathered that the Government is unwilling to restrict economic activities, such as fishing, unless it absolutely has to.
Professor Dawson said it is trying to get compromises that science shows are not achievable and the lack urgent action to save the Maui's dolphin is an international shame.
Conference organisers say human activities at sea and in rivers are posing an increasing threat to marine mammals.
Earlier this year, they wrote to Conservation Minister Nick Smith asking him to extend a netting ban to cover the entire range of the Maui's dolphin's habitat.
Dr Smith announced in late November that the Government would extend a set-net fishing ban off the Taranaki coast, but it is feared that won't be enough to stop the species' decline.
Elisabeth Slooten, chair of the conference organising committee and an associate professor at Otago University, said the Yangtze River dolphin has already become extinct in our lifetime and the vaquita dolphin in Mexico is under extreme threat. She warned that the Maui's dolphin could be next.