Critically endangered Northern Pahu (Maui) observed by our SSNZ crew on February 20th 2019 off Manukau Heads, west Auckland.
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.
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.
This patrol on the Wednedsay 19th December left from Port Charmers (Ōtepoti/Dunedin) and sailed to Karitane about 30km up the coast. This was the first time our crew have seen Pahu at the Duendin Harbour entrance in a month of December. Three Hector’s were spotted. Later one was spotted off Karitane.
First of our summer patrols at the beloved Te Waewae! This bay has one of the most iconic Pahu (Hector’s dolphin) communities in New Zealand. It is especially sad our Governments have allowed trawling in this Marine Mammal Sanctuary since its creation back in 2008. Conservation bodies like the International Whaling commission (IWC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have been recommending against this practice for the last 6-7 years.
Our crew spotted Pahu less than 200m behind several commercial fishing vessels and unfortunately the dolphins appeared to be following them. One of the trawlers was well within the no trawl area (2 nautical miles). However, because they were supposedly using a “low headline-height trawl net” the restriction does not apply and those extremely dangerous practices for our native dolphins remain legal. There is no evidence that this type of gear actually reduces the number of dolphins caught but it does provide companies with a loophole and enable them to continue to work within ecologically sensitive areas. We can’t be there all the time but we’ll endeavour to be there for the Pahu when we can.
Autumn patrol to ToeToes Bay including Waipapa Point and then off to Slope Point (close to the Catlins). There is no official Hector’s estimate for this area and if any population did or does exist it has remained unstudied. No Pahu spotted today by our crew.
Our first patrol off Moeraki with some fantastic shots of the magic Pahu!
There are no official estimates for Pahu in the Moeraki/ Oamaru area. However the most recent finding when compared to a study in the mid 1990s shows there are about 75% less dolphin sightings (see our recent population report here: https://www.operationpahu.nz/subpopulations
There has been pronounced population decline, and a contraction in distribution off Oamaru. Interviews with fishermen from this area have revealed that “it is wide practice that dolphins are caught as bycatch by rig and elephant fisheries that occur in summer, and inshore waters”.
There used to be around 300 dolphins in this area in the 1970s. There may be as few as 20 individuals. This area really needs some urgent fieldwork.
We'll be back checking on the local population in the near future.
Field work and research carried out by Sea Shepherd New Zealand as part of Operation Pahu has found some Hector’s (Pahu) populations are disappearing or gone forever from the South East coast of Te Wai Pounamu.
Hector’s dolphins don’t stray far from home, with movements over 100km very rare. Their alongshore range is around just 50km. Only some individuals are adventurous, traveling to visit other pods.
The species is made up of a series of distinct subpopulations like a necklace around the South Island. Genetic studies and lack of Photo-ID matches all support this. Each subpopulation is important, for adjacent genetic exchange, of which there is a stepping-stone pattern along coasts, and each is a critical link for the species as a whole.
There used to be more than 50,000 Hector’s dolphins around Aotearoa. Now they are only abundant off the middle coastal parts of the South Island. In other areas, most subpopulations are becoming increasingly fragmented. The exception is Banks Peninsula, this subpopulation is slowly increasing. Many are just as critically endangered as Māui dolphins.
Subpopulations like Kaka Point (Northern Catlins) and Brighton (South Dunedin) where Pahu were historically abundant are now possibly gone forever or seldom seen. The Dunedin Taiaroa Head population is critically endangered with only 40 remaining and so too Oamaru with as few as 20 left.
Grant Meikle, Operation Pahu Campaign Leader says “Since we launched Operation Pahu it’s been great getting out and checking on the various regional populations but also very sad to see that some of them now have such low numbers. Commercial trawling is still having an impact and if we are serious about saving some of the critical populations we need to remove this threat completely. We don’t believe many of the deaths are being reported”
Full report here: https://www.operationpahu.nz/subpopulations