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October 2002

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Nets Snaring Rare Dolphins

New Zealanders call those rounded dorsal fins Mickey Mouse ears. They belong to Hector’s dolphins, the smallest—and perhaps the rarest—marine dolphin species in the world. The dolphins swim only in the nearshore waters of the North and South Islands, New Zealand’s main landmasses. Unfortunately, that’s where many fishermen cast their nets, looking for rig, a small shark species used for fish and chips.

About 7,000 Hector’s dolphins live along the South Island coastline. The critically endangered and genetically distinct North Island population numbers only about a hundred. “Last February three dead dolphins were found on North Island beaches,” says Sam DuFresne of the University of Otago. Two of these animals bore marks from fishermen’s gill nets. The dolphins become entangled in the nets and drown.

Last March a New Zealand court overturned a decision to halt fishing with gill nets in a large area of North Island waters used by Hector’s dolphins. Now the government, conservationists, and fishermen are negotiating a new plan to try to save the world’s smallest dolphin.

— John L. Eliot

Web Links

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
Learn about the problems that face different species of whales and dolphins throughout the world, including Hector’s dolphins, and find out ways to help.

New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC)
Read about the DOC’s commitment to preserve the natural and historic heritage of New Zealand.

Free World Map

Baker, Alan N. Whales and Dolphins of New Zealand. Victoria University Press, 1983.

Carwadine, Mark. Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises. DK Publishing, 1995.

Connor, Richard C., and Dawn Micklewaite Peterson. The Lives of Whales and Dolphins. Henry Holt and Company, 1994.

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