Protecting the Maui’s dolphin in Auckland

Writing for Fairfax’s Auckland Now, reporter Delwyn Dickey examines the science and politics of protecting the Maui’s dolphin.

An excerpt (read in full here):

The Maui’s dolphin is heading for extinction under government proposals to protect it on Auckland’s doorstep.

That’s the view of the council’s environment and sustainability forum chairman and Albany Ward councillor Wayne Walker as the region prepares its threat management plan submission before the November 12 deadline.

The world’s smallest dolphin is seen as expendable by the government as it panders to the fishing industry lobby groups ahead of the views of most New Zealanders, he says.

About 55 Maui’s dolphin are estimated left, most sightings restricted to between Port Waikato and the Manukau Harbour on Auckland’s west coast.

“Our submission will likely point out the government’s proposals are inadequate,” Mr Walker says.

“They don’t appear to be based on science, and don’t take into account the perilous state of the Maui’s dolphin,” the Whangaparaoa resident says.

Not all forum members agree the council should be submitting in favour of protecting the dolphin.

Councillor Des Morrison raises concerns for fishers operating from the Manukau Harbour.

Independent Maori Statutory Board member David Tapari says the broader protection could interfere with Treaty of Waitangi settlements yet to be sorted along Auckland’s west coast.

A June workshop for experts in the marine mammal field was held by the Ministry of Primary Industries, Conservation Department and the Royal Society of New Zealand to assess human-induced impacts on Maui’s population.

They included researchers from Auckland, Otago and Oregon USA universities, NIWA, Te Papa, and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration US fisheries expert.

No scientific representative from either MPI or DOC was included, though New Zealand Seafood Industry Council chief scientist Dr David Middleton, a marine modeller, was there.

His estimates were sometimes at odds with other panel members.

These include an estimate of one Maui’s dolphin death a year compared with a mid range of around five for the other panelists and a mortality estimate from fishing related threats more than 10 times lower than the closest estimate.

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