Moeraki patrol

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:

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.


                    Operation Pahu crew, Moeraki

NZ Dolphin populations disappearing

South East Subpopulation Estimates for Hector’s Dolphins - graphic.jpg

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:

Te Waewae - a Marine Mammal Sanctuary?

Te Waewae is a very special place for Pahu and a special place for our Operation Pahu campaign leader Grant Meikle (Ngai Tahu). We've patrolled Te Waewae several times this year and the most Hector’s we have counted is 121 including the very distinctive "Marilyn" with the split dorsal fin - seen pictured. Working with scientists our current estimate for the whole bay is around 200 (watch out for more information to follow). There would have been as many as 500 in the 1970’s. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence from this area pointing to high levels of dolphin bycatch – 10 years ago there was about one Hector’s caught for every four to six tonnes of rig (from a Te Waewae Bay fishermen who requested anonymity via personal communication, 2008.)
Unbelievably Te Waewae is a Marine Mammal Sanctuary where commercial fishing is allowed! If that sounds confusing we’d have to agree but maybe with the change of Government and a welcome shift back to real conservation this can be revised?

                                     Bow riding Pahu, Port Craig, Te Waewae

Curio and Porpoise Bay - Catlins

Patrolling Curio and Porpoise Bay in the Catlins; pictured here with some of our clients. The Catlins is a growing tourist area and people from all over the world come here to see the Pahu (Hector’s dolphins) which can often be seen just from the beach.  The incorrectly named “Porpoise Bay” comes from a time when early European settlers had no idea Pahu were endemic inshore dolphins only found in Aotearoa. We’ve patrolled here a number of times in the Loki and observed up to fifteen individuals. Ten years ago DOC estimated there were fifty.

                                                Commercial fishing vessel in vicinity