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South Island Hector's Dolphin: Queen Charlotte Sound subpopulation (est ~36)

Photo Rob Pine

Māui and Hector’s dolphins are the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphins and are only found in New Zealand’s coastal waters. They are at risk from extinction mainly from beng killed in set and trawl nets.
Hector's dolphin numbers have plummeted from around 30,000 Hector’s and 2000 Māui in the 1970s, to between 9000-14000 Hector's* and between 48-64 Māui now*. Even the more numerous South Island Hector’s are in small fragmented subpopulations with little mixing between them.
Geographically and genetically distinct subpopulations are in places like Queen Charlotte Sound and South East Otago where there are as few as 40 individuals.*
Hector's used to be the most commonly seen New Zealand dolphin, they were abundant throughout our coastal waters. -Including the East Coast of the North Island, where they are still sometimes seen.
But now, no Hector's dolphins are safe throughout their range.

*This is an estimate for fisheries purposes and not universally accepted. See discussion here

*Department of Conservation figures

*Hannah Williams research

Māui and Hector’s Dolphin Defenders is a grass-roots New Zealand based Incorporated Society. We campaign for improved health and protection for Māui and Hector’s dolphins.


Help save the world's smallest

and rarest ocean dolphins.

Around 50 Hector's can be killed each year by the fishing industry according to Fisheries Related Mortality Limits. Current rules say up to 20 can be killed in Canterbury alone, every year. That's unacceptable. WE CAN protect Hector's. Come on ECan, protect Hector's now.

New rules are also needed in the ECan Regional Coastal Plan to prevent high speed boat races in Hector's habitat. Boat strike kills dolphins and is responsible for three possible or confirmed Hector's deaths in the year 2023-4, including a juvenile male in Banks Peninsula.

Sign the petition here to 'Scuttle SailGP in Hector's Lyttelton Harbour home'

Extinction Watch Mortality Tracker

In May 2024 we launched a Mortality Tracker. It's a live dashboard that keeps a count of dolphin deaths, and the cause of death in an up to date tally.

It's based on the Department of Conservation Māui and Hector's Incident Database. Though there may be lag between what's reported on there and what happens at sea, we aim to make updates visible to the public.


What's happening out there is horrific. Too many dolphins are dying. 


The Mortality Tracker shows how trawl bycatch reporting has increased by almost 500% since the roll out of onboard cameras. No longer can bodies be easily thrown overboard to wash up on the beach. It's no coincidence that beachcast dolphins are being replaced by trawl deaths in the database.


Trawling must be removed from Māui and Hector's habitat

Screenshot 2024-05-08 091543.png

People power has protected Māui and Hector’s dolphins in the past. There are now recreational set net bans in many parts of New Zealand where once dolphins were frequently being killed. That's brought benefits to many other sea creatures too.

In the past few years Dolphin Defenders across the country supported commercial set netting controls and cameras onboard fishing boats too.
We need to keep the care and energy of New Zealanders (and the world) going to address the evident trawling threat that's now revealed by onboard camera footage.

We now have evidence that trawlers are killing Hector's, and have been all along.

We need all New Zealanders to be Dolphin Defenders, to lobby local, regional and central government politicians; work with scientists, the Department of Conservation and other Government departments; and talk to the public and community groups and tourism providers, all with the aim of making the oceans safe for the dolphins so they flourish into the future.

At Māui and Hector's Dolphin Defenders Inc, we make submissions and give presentations, and attend government consultation processes to protect the species as a whole, as well as the Māui and Hector’s subpopulations found around the North and South Island.

We work with the public to channel power for the dolphins.

Māui and Hector's dolphins need to be safe throughout their range, in 'dolphin corridors' between the North and South Islands, harbours and out to 100m deep.

Help us support a protection regime for the dolphins that keeps them safe in all their habitat (red) instead of the existing marginal protection as shown in green.

Māui and Hector’s dolphins need to be safe from seismic testing and other noisy and disturbing activities for oil, gas and mineral exploitation and harbour activities, from inappropriate tourism and sporting activities (SailGP and Jetski tourism), pollution, boat strike.

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