Habitat and Ecology
The habits and biology of Hector's dolphins in the South Island have been well studied in the last couple of decades (Dawson 2002) and there has been increasing research effort on
There is little information on the feeding ecology of
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2000Critically Endangered
Studies of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA show that North Island Hector's dolphins are genetically distinct from any of the
Recent surveys show that the South Island Hector’s dolphin populations collectively number about 7,270 individuals (CV=15.8%; Dawson et al. 2004), while the
An age-structured model (Slooten et al. 2000) indicates that approximately 50% of Hector’s dolphins are mature individuals. If about half of the estimated 111
Population viability analyses using current abundance together with entanglement rates and historical and current fishing effort indicated a high risk of decline, and that gillnet entanglement had caused a decline since 1970 in the North Island subspecies population (Martien et al. 1999; Slooten 2007). Estimated abundance in the late 1990s was around 25% of the 1970 estimate of 437 individuals (Martien et al. 1999), and the most recent estimate of depletion is that about 7% of the 1970 population remains (Slooten 2007).
Like the species as a whole,
The species is listed in Appendix II of CITES.
The subspecies is restricted to waters of
The New Zealand Government has created a protected area for C. h. maui where gillnetting is prohibited along 390 km of coastline, but the area does not extend far enough south to cover the range of recent sightings and falls well short of covering the historic range. The latter has clear implications for the prospects of recovery. Gillnetting continues inside harbors, trawling is not restricted, and there are no observer programs to estimate the number of dolphins taken (Slooten et al. 2005, 2006b).
Discussions between the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Conservation are currently (early 2008) underway to develop a comprehensive management plan for Hector’s dolphin (including
Maui's dolphin or popoto (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) is the world's rarest and smallest known subspecies of dolphin. They are a sub-species of the Hector's dolphin. Maui's dolphin are only found off the west coast of New Zealand's North Island, and are the country's only endemic subspecies of cetacean. As of 2012, it is estimated that there are 55 Maui's dolphins at least one year old in the world. Maui's dolphins are generally found close to shore in groups or pods of several dolphin. They are often seen in water less than 20 metres deep, but may also range further offshore. Most of their time is spent feeding.
In 2002, Maui's dolphins were classified as a sub-species of Hector's dolphin. Previously, they had been known as the North Island Hector's Dolphin. Dr Alan Baker found that genetic and skeletal differences in the Maui's dolphins made them distinct from others in the Hector's species. These significant differences over a small geographical distance have not been found in any other studies of marine mammals. There are 22 different mitochondrial DNA identification haplotypes in the Hector's species, the Maui's ‘G' haplotype being one of them.
In 2002, it was not known that Hector's dolphins were capable of swimming across Cook Strait and co-existing with Maui's dolphins. Instead it was understood that the deep waters of the Strait had been an effective barrier between South Island Hector's and its North Island Maui's subspecies for between 15,000 and 16,000 years. It was therefore surprising to researchers that the 2012 Auckland University/Department of Conservation boat survey tissue sampling of Maui's in core range, which included historical samples, revealed some Hector's dolphins living with Maui's in this range area.
There is no evidence so far that the Hector's and Maui's interbreed, but, given their close genetic composition, it is likely that they could. Interbreeding may increase the numbers of dolphins in the Maui's range and reduce the risk of inbreeding depression. But such interbreeding could eventually result in a hybridisation of the Maui's back into the Hector's species and lead to a reclassification of Maui's as again the North Island Hector's. Hybridisation in this manner threatens the Otago black stilt and the Chatham Islands' Forbes parakeet and has eliminated the South Island brown teal as a subspecies. Researchers have also identified potential interbreeding as threatening the Maui's with hybrid breakdown and outbreeding depression.
Having distinctive grey, white and black markings and a short snout, they are most easily recognized by their round dorsal fin. Maui's dolphins are generally found close to shore in groups or pods of several dolphins. They have a solidly built body with a gently sloping snout and a unique rounded dorsal fin. (Maui's and Hector's are the only dolphins with a well-rounded black dorsal fin.) Females grow to 1.7 metres long and weigh up to 50 kg. Males are slightly smaller and lighter. The dolphins are known to live up to 20 years.
Population and distribution
Maui's are only found off the west coast of the central and upper North Island of New Zealand, approximately between Dargaville and New Plymouth. Since 2001 the known range of the Maui's has been between the Kaipara Harbour south to Raglan Harbour. Most sightings of the dolphins are made in their core range between Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato, a 22 nautical mile distance. There are previous records of dolphin sightings off the east coast of the North Island, which could indicate there was a much larger population or another subspecies of Hector's has since become extinct.
Its estimated that 55 adult individuals of the species currently remain in the wild. This is a marked decrease from a 2004 survey that found the population to be around 100 dolphins. A survey of Maui's dolphins in 1985 estimated their numbers to be at 134. The data from the 2012 report is not directly comparable with earlier aerial surveys because of the different methods used, but the reports highlight that the population is very small and are indicative of a recent decline.
A likely Maui's dolphin (possibly a Hector's dolphin) was caught in a set net off Cape Egmont on 2 January 2012. A Hector's dolphin was found washed up on the Opunake beach on 26 April 2012.
The last confirmed Maui's presence off Taranaki was at Oakura Beach on 6 December 1988. Other historical presence further south has been confirmed by DNA analysis, dating back to Wellington Harbour in 1873.
Ecology and behaviour
Vocalizations and echolocation
Foraging and predation
Maui's dolphins feed on small fish, squid and ocean floor dwelling species like flatfish and cod. Maui's dolphins spend much of their time making dives to find fish on the sea floor. They also find fish and squid in mid water and at times feed near the surface.
Social behaviour and reproduction
Female Maui's dolphins are not sexually mature until they are 7 - 9 years of age. They then produce one calf every 2 - 4 years.
Very little is known about the Maui's dolphin reproductive physiology.
Gill net fishing has had an adverse effect on the Maui's dolphin population.
Some groups in the fishing industry are against increased bans on set nets into waters further offshore and into harborus, and say there are other factors responsible for the decline in population, including disease, pollution, mining and natural predation. 
In 2006, Brucella was identified in a dead Maui's dolphin and DOC says this disease could have serious ramifications for the small Maui's population. Brucella is a pathogen of terrestrial mammals that can cause late pregnancy abortion, and has been seen in a range of cetacean species elsewhere.
Recent post mortems on Hector's and Maui's have shown a 61% infection rate of the parasite Toxoplasma. Two of the three Maui's examined were killed by toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is known to reduce fertility in livestock, with cats playing a key role in its spread. It is not known how toxoplasmosis spread to Maui's and Hector's dolphins.
Set net ban
Currently a trawling and set net ban stretches from Maunganui Bluff (north of Auckland) to Pariokariwa Point (north Taranaki), out to seven nautical miles from shore. Harbours along this stretch of coast do not have a set net ban.
After what MPI believed at the time in January 2012 was the capture of a Maui's dolphin off Taranaki, in June 2012 the New Zealand government announced an interim set net ban extension south around the Taranaki coast to Hawera and out to two nautical miles from shore, and placed observers to look for Maui's dolphins on all vessels setting nets out to seven nautical miles.
- "Dolphin's death reignites calls for set net ban". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27/02/2012.
- "Maui's Dolphin - Deep Trouble". New Zealand Geographic. Retrieved 2/4/2012.
- New Zealand Department of Conservation. "Maui's dolphin abundance estimate: DOC's work". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
- "Maui's dolphins- An Overview". WWF. Retrieved 14th of November 2012.
- "Maui's dolphin". WWF. Retrieved 9/3/2012.
- "Cephalorhynchus hectori ssp. maui". International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2/4/2012.
- Hamner, Rebecca M.; Pichler, Heimeier,Constantine, Baker (August 2012). "Genetic differentiation and limited gene flow among fragmented populations of New Zealand endemic Hector's and Maui's dolphins". Conservation Genetics 13 (4): 987–1002. doi:10.1007/s10592-012-0347-9.
- Hamner, R.M. "Estimating the abundance and effective population size of Maui's dolphins using microsatellite genotypes in 2010–11, with retrospective matching to 2001–07.". New Zealand Department of Conservation. Retrieved December 2012.
- Wallis, G. "Genetic status of New Zealand black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae ) and impact of hybridisation". New Zealand Department of Conservation.
- Greene, T.C. "Forbes' parakeet (Cyanoramphus forbesi) population on Mangere Island, Chatham Islands". New Zealand Department of Conservation. Retrieved December 2012.
- Gemmel, N.J. "Taxonomic status of the brown teal (Anas chlorotis) in Fiordland". New Zealand Department of Conservation. Retrieved December 2012.
- Hitchmough, Rod; Bull, Leigh; Cromarty, Pam (compilers) (2007). New Zealand Threat Classification System lists - 2005. Wellington: Science & Technical Publishing, Department of Conservation. p. 32. ISBN 0-478-14128-9.
- "Maui's Dolphins". Forest & Bird. Retrieved 9/3/2012.
- "Review of the Maui's Dolphin Threat Management Plan". New Zealand Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries. Retrieved December 2012.
- "Rare encounter with Mauis dolphins". stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 14/3/2012.
- Interim set net measures to protect Maui's dolphins, final advice paper. New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries. 10th June 2012.
- "Maui's dolphin - Ecology". WWF. Retrieved 10/3/2012.
- "Dolphins and Porpoises (Families Delphinidae and Phocoenidae)". Treasures of the sea. Retrieved 15/3/2012.
- "Facts about Maui's dolphin". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 9/3/2012.
- Interim set net measures to protect Maui's dolphins, final advice paper. NZ Ministry for Primary Industries. 10th June 2012.
- "Threats to Maui's dolphins". Department of Conservation.
- "Threats not caused by people - disease". New Zealand Department of Conservation. Retrieved December 2012.
- "Interim Set Net Measures to manage the risk of Maui's dolphin Mortality". Ministry of Fisheries. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- "Set net ban extension to protect Maui's Dolphin". stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- Cumming, Geoff (3 November 2012). "Maui's dolphin swimming in sea of trouble". New Zealand Herald.
To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!