SYDNEY – The populations of the Hector’s dolphin, a small sea mammal living only in the waters off New Zealand, decreased by 80 percent in the last 50 years, the environmental organization Sea Shepherd warned on Thursday.
It is estimated that there are currently only some 9,000 Hector’s dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori) left, after a drastic population decrease from the 50,000 estimated in 1970, which has placed it on the list of endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“Many of the small sub populations are as isolated and vulnerable as the North Island Hector’s (Maui),” said Michael Lawry, Managing Director of Sea Shepherd New Zealand, an environmental organization which just launched a campaign to save the marine mammals.
“Hector’s disappeared at such a rapid rate last century and with very little public knowledge; it was truly a silent slaughter in our inshore waters. There’s a greater public awareness now, but still a problem that can’t be solved by petitions and submissions,” Lawry said.
The environmental activist also claimed that the connections the New Zealand government has with “some big fishing companies” might be helpful in solving this issue.
The “Operation Pahu,” referring to the Hector’s dolphins name in Maori language, a word which imitates the sound the dolphins make when surfacing to breath, aims to protect the mammals from illegal fishing or unregulated trade, the organization said in a statement.
A large number of these dolphins die from being trapped in fishing nets as they are unable to swim up to the ocean surface to breath.
During the campaign, activists, in collaboration with indigenous people and local scientists, will patrol the southeastern coasts of the South Island to monitor human activities in the dolphin’s habitat.
The Hector’s dolphin, a gray marine mammal with whitish spots, usually grows to around 1.4 meters in length.