Foveaux Strait

Recently our Operation Pahu Crew patrolled the eastern side of Foveaux Strait. The Catlins Hector’s subpopulation is believed to migrate around into Toetoes Bay during the autumn to spring seasons. This is a very vulnerable subpopulation with only approximately fifty individuals remaining. Population surveys over the past thirty years have seen the numbers remain stagnant. One human introduced death could have devastating long term consequences.

On this day the crew were pretty happy to sight three Pahu but they were extremely disappointed to find a disregarded set net within the habitat. Gillnets have been responsible for the death of thousands of Pahu since the introduction of filament nets in the 1970’s. Its been illegal since 2008 to set a net within 2nm off the coast within Foveaux Strait.

No Maui - Manukau to Port Waikato

Last week our crew patrolled from Manukau Heads to Port Waikato and unfortunately not a single Maui was spotted. In February this year we were stoked to observe five to six of the world’s rare marine dolphin. This time we covered most of their small protected 4nm (7.4km) trawl zone and searched for over six hours. No dolphins.

Although it was disappointing not to see any Maui is more concerning they may have moved out of their protected area during autumn/winter. This also confirms research showing seasonal movement offshore for both Maui and Pahu during the cooler months. It also highlights how inadequate our current protected areas are and in particular for this very rare and critically endangered Maui sub population.

So excuse the lack of Maui pictures this time. But here’s some sea, sky and t shirts photos instead!

Pahu trawl risk

Update by Grant Meikle (Campaign Leader)

Easter Friday (19th April) was a maintenance day for Holden tow vehicle ‘Anti Rodeo’ and vessel Loki and time to reflect on the past five days which had seen our volunteer crew patrol from Waikuku beach north of Christchurch to Long Point in Southern Fiordland. A distance by road of 700km.

Canterbury Patrol

We launched Loki at Sumner boat ramp on Saturday 13th April and headed south past Lyttleton Harbour. We spotted a vessel on the horizon and as we got closer we found a pod of approximately fifty Pahu (Hector’s dolphins) and many seabirds (including Albatross) following a trawl vessel. The Pahu were feeding on the small fish that escape from the trawl net in a feeding frenzy; in NZ this is commonly known as a “boil up”.

There were seven Pahu reported caught in trawl fisheries in this area since December 2018. The most concerning fact is only around 2% of Hector’s caught in fishing nets are reported with around 150 killed every year as bycatch.

We stayed behind and observed the trawler, as the trawler lifted the net Pahu swam around catching any fish that were escaping. It appeared that a dolphin caught its fin on the side of the net fin and frantically flicked its tail to release itself. It was a very distressing sight for the crew and a pure miracle Pahu were not caught.

We then continued north to Waikuku beach in Pegasus Bay where on two separate occasions we sighted individual Pahu well offshore.

Te Waewae and South East Fiordland

On Thursday 19th April we launched Loki from Cosy Nook in Foveaux Strait and headed west to Long Point. Long Point is on the South Eastern side of Fiordland National Park, this has zero protection for Pahu in this area.

We then continued around to Port Craig in Te Waewae Bay where we were surprised not be met by our usual welcoming committee of around twelve Pahu who reside in this area. We only sighted one hundred of the approximate two hundred Pahu in Te Waewae. From our observations they appear to migrate out to deeper water over the winter months. Excitingly we sighted eight calves which is extremely encouraging.

As we returned to Cosy Nook we were ecstatic to see a very large pod of Southern Bottlenose dolphins. Sea Shepherd crew member and Scientific Advisor Gemma McGrath:

“…….this pod of Bottlenose Dolphins are the southernmost distribution of Bottlenose dolphins in the world and very little is known about them”.

Sea Shepherd New Zealand and Operation Pahu are operated solely by volunteers and these patrols come at a cost. We had a blowout on our trailer tyre while travelling back from Cosy Nook, and only because of your continuous generous support can we continue our work.

Please visit www.operationpahu.nz for further information a link to our donation page can also be found here.

Catlins Precious Pahu!

Over the weekend of 23rd and 24th March fifteen volunteers from Invercargill, Dunedin and Queenstown met at Curio Bay for the annual Pahu campout. The weekend involved a beach clean, guest speakers and patrols of the Catlins. The crew was disappointed to find discarded Sanford bait boxes close to nearby commercial vessels.
We individually identified twenty-four Pahu (including 1 calf) in Porpoise Bay, and then travelled south west to Toetoes Bay where no further dolphins were spotted. The last survey of Curio and Porpoise Bay was commissioned by DOC in 2008 resulting in an estimate of forty-nine dolphins. This matched similar fieldwork in 2002/03 and conversations with local fisherman at the Waikawa wharf in 1997/98 which confirmed Pahu numbers have decreased considerably since the 1980’s where it was not uncommon to see forty.  They also advised Pahu are very rarely seen north of Porpoise Bay, but often seen travelling south west. It is possible that the Catlins Pahu are more threatened than the Maui. Campaign Leader, Grant Meikle.

Photos: Katharina Rehberg

Ten percent of Maui

Last week our SSNZ crew spotted 5-6 Maui off Manukau heads on the west coast of Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland). This is about ten percent of the population of the world’s rarest dolphin. Maui were hammered by recreational set nets and commercial fishing for decades before conservationists realised what was going on. Some changes to protect them were made in 2008 but there have been no substantial measures to safeguard them since. This year we have new hope that the Threat Management Plan for Hector's and Maui will finally give them the protection and respect they deserve before it’s too late. Conveniently these changes would also make us compliant with US marine mammal bycatch regulations so that would be a win win for New Zealand and the world’s rarest dolphin.

Te Waewae Pahu Calves 2019!

Recently our crew spotted a couple of Pahu calves in Te Waewae. What a great way to kick off 2019!

Check out how shallow the water is where the Pahu are playing. This is concerning as commercial trawlers have no restrictions when using low headline trawl gear and can work very close to shore. This is why our NZ Dolphins are so vulnerable to any type of gill nets and trawling. Best practice recommended by scientists and local and International bodies is no commercial fishing in Pahu and Maui habitats within the 100m depth contour.