With only 55 adult Maui dolphins left int he wild the rare dolphin species faces extinction within twenty years, marine conservationists have argued.
The world’s smallest dolphins, Maui’s are only found along the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
But the animals are increasingly under threat by the local fishing industry and disease.
The New Zealand government recently announced new measures, which include fishing restrictions and a ban on the use of nets by 350 kilometres, in an effort to protect the dolphins in the wild.
“We are taking a cautious approach by banning set netting where there is clear evidence the Maui’s dolphins go while not unnecessarily banning fishing where they are not,” NZ Conservation minister, Dr Nick Smith told reporters.
However, conservationists and campaigners for the species have declared that the measures taken by the government will amount to a “death sentence” for the dolphins.
They argue that more than 75 per cent of the Maui’s habitat will remain unprotected and subject to netting and trawling.
Declared critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the New Zealand government has been urged to protect the species in water up to 100m deep.
International conservation groups have also stepped up the pressure with the International Whaling Commission and the Society for marine Mammaology urging the government to remove all fishing net from the dolphins habitat.
One group, the german-based organisation NABU International, is even threatening to pursue the matter in New Zealand’s High Court and is currently calling on a boycott of all New Zealand seafood.
“New Zealand’s failure to protect the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin is a bitter blow to marine conservation,” Dr Barbara Maas from NABU said in a statement to the media.
“New Zealand has ignored the facts and the advice of the world’s scientific community to accommodate the commercial interests of its fishing industry,” she added.
But they don’t have to be doomed to extinction, argues Maas. Maui’s are closely related to another native NZ species of dolphins, known as Hector’s. They survive in far greater numbers are not doomed to extinction,
“Genetic variability is still high, they can bounce back but saving them is a race against time.”