Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Pressure on N. Zealand to save world's rarest dolphin

By Neil Sands | AFP – Mon, Jun 10, 2013

New Zealand is facing pressure to save the world's rarest dolphin at an international scientific meeting underway this week in what conservationists say is a test of the nation's "clean, green" credentials.

The Maui's dolphin, found only in shallow waters off the North Island's west coast, is listed as critically endangered, with just 55 adults remaining and experts fearing it will disappear by 2030 unless urgent action is taken.

The grey and white Maui's, named after a Polynesian demi-god, is one of the world's smallest dolphins, with a maximum length of 1.7 metres (5.5 foot).

Associate professor of zoology at Otago University Liz Slooten said an expert panel appointed by the government estimated last year that five of the dolphins were killed annually as fishing industry "bycatch".

"They are literally teetering in the brink of extinction," Slooten said. "They won't last if we don't do something right now."

The New Zealand government believes that entanglement in gill nets -- vertical mesh nets left in the water for long periods -- is the main cause of death.

Conservation groups say proposals for seabed mining, including seismic surveying, also pose a major threat.

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