Make your own free website on
NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust logo
What's New?
Our Research
Who's Involved
What You Can Do
Contact Details
What's New?/NI Hector's Dolphin last updated 22 May 2002
North Island Hector's Dolphin - help protect this critically endangered population
hector's dolphin jumping
URGENT: The North Island Hector's Dolphin Needs Your Help

The Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Conservation are in the process of deciding how to best protect the critically endangered North Island Hector's dolphin. Please write a letter or send an email supporting option 3 below, or stronger measures. Feel free to use any of the arguments below to support your case.

You can send your letter to:

  • Pete Hodgson, Minister of Fisheries, Parliament Buildings, Wellington
  • Sandra Lee, Minister of Conservation, Parliament Buildings, Wellington
    (no stamp required)
Or by email to:

Three management options have been put forward:

  1. Fishing industry option
    Protected area from Manukau Harbour to Aotea Harbour. No gillnetting would be allowed on the open coast, to 4 nautical miles offshore. Acoustic "pingers" would be used in Hector's dolphin habitat north of the protected area, in the hope of warning the dolphins of the nets' presence (unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that this method works for Hector's dolphins). An additional, seasonal closure is proposed for the area south to Mokau for January, February and March each year, to 2 nautical miles offshore. The total protected area in option 1 (seasonal and year-round protected areas combined) is about half of the habitat of the North Island Hector's dolphin. This option does not include protection for Hector's dolphins in the harbours on the North Island west coast, nor reductions in the amount of trawling.
  2. Ministry of Fisheries option
    Protected area from Maunganui Bluff (near Dargaville) to Pariokariwa Point (about 40 km north of New Plymouth) This includes about 90% of the Hector's dolphin habitat off the West Coast of the North Island. No gillnetting would be allowed on the open coast out to 4 nautical miles and in the entrance of the Manukau Harbour. This option does not include protection for Hector's dolphins in the other harbours on the North Island west coast, nor reductions in the amount of trawling.
  3. Department of Conservation option
    Protected area from Maunganui Bluff to Pariokariwa Point (same as option 2, but also includes harbours). No gillnetting would be allowed on the open coast out to 4 nautical miles and in parts of several of the harbours (Kaipara, Manukau, Kawhia, Raglan, Aotea and Port Waikato). No trawling or Danish Seining would be allowed within 2 nautical miles of the coast (trawling is currently prohibited to 1 nmi offshore). Commercial fishers using trawling and Danish seining between 2 and 4 nautical miles offshore would be required to carry observers, video cameras or other means of detecting dolphin captures.

Option 3 shows by far the best promise of protecting the North Island Hector's dolphin. Several meetings of interested groups (Fishers, Ministry of Fisheries, Department of Conservation, scientists, conservation groups, etc.) have agreed that the management goal for North Island Hector's dolphin should be to reduce human impacts to as close to zero as possible. The DOC option is the only proposal that has any chance of achieving this. We suggest you send a letter or email to the Minister of Fisheries and Minister of Conservation to support option 3 above, or stronger protection measures.

Hector's dolphin is an endangered species, only found in New Zealand. The North Island population is very small (most likely fewer than 100 individuals, Russell, 1999) and has recently been listed as critically endangered on the international Red List of threatened species (IUCN, 2000). North Island and South Island Hector's dolphins are genetically different (Pichler et al., 1998).

The North Island population is declining (Martien et al., 1999; Pichler and Baker, 2000), due to bycatch in gillnets (Martien et al., 1999). A sustainable level of bycatch would be about one dolphin every 5 years. A meeting of fishers, conservation groups, scientists and government officials (in Wellington in May 2000) agreed that bycatch should be reduced to zero, to allow the population to recover. The only effective way to achieve this would be to avoid overlap between dolphins and gillnets.

North Island Hector's dolphins are found between Maunganui Bluff (north of Dargaville) and New Plymouth. To reduce bycatch of Hector's dolphins to sustainable levels, it would be necessary to avoid gillnetting and trawling for this whole area, out to at least 4 nautical miles offshore.

  • Dawson, S., Pichler, F., Slooten, E., Russell, K. and Baker, C.S. 2001. North Island Hector's dolphin is vulnerable to extinction. Marine Mammal Science 17 (2): 366-371.
  • Dawson, S.M., Read, A. and Slooten, E. 1998. Pingers, porpoises and power: Uncertainties with using pingers to reduce bycatch of small cetaceans. Biological Conservation 84(2): 141-146.
  • IUCN Red Data List 2000. IUCN, World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland,
  • Martien, K.K., Taylor, B.L., Slooten, E. Dawson, S.M. 1999. A sensitivity analysis to guide research and management for Hector's dolphin. Biological Conservation 90: 183-191.
  • Pichler, F. and Baker, C.S. 2000. Loss of genetic diversity in the endemic Hector's dolphin due to fisheries-related mortality. Proc R. Soc. Lond. B. 267:97-102.
  • Pichler, F., Baker, C.S., Dawson, S.M. & Slooten, E. 1998. Mitochondrial differences between east and west coast populations of Hector's dolphin. Conservation Biology. 12(3): 1-8.
  • Russell, K. 1999. The North Island Hector's dolphin: a species in need of conservation. Unpub. MSc thesis, University of Auckland.