Hector’s & Maui’s dolphins

In the 1970s between 21,000 and 29,000 Hector’s & Maui's dolphins lived around our coastline. Today, their population stands at just 7000 dolphins. 

Maui’s dolphins (a sub-species of Hector's) are found around the North island. They are listed as critically endangered.

Hector’s dolphins are listed as endangered.

The latest population (2010/11) estimate for Maui’s puts their population at just 55 dolphins over the age of one.  

At the current estimated rate of decline these dolphins are likely to go extinct.

These dolphins face a number of threats. Set nets placed around coastal areas is one of their major threats, as they prefer to live in waters that are less than 100 metres in depth. 

Additionally, they’re also at risk because of their short lifespan (estimated 22- 30 years) and the fact they are late and slow breeders.

Females mature between 7-9 years and have one calf every 2-3 years. 

Protection to date is woefully inadequate. 

In order to save Maui’s from extinction, Forest & Bird is recommending that there is full protection from all threats – fishing, marine mining and seismic surveying in the areas that they inhabit (see map). 

It’s estimated that around five Maui’s dolphins die each year from human activities – and they can only survive one human related death every 10 – 23 years. Urgent action is needed now. 


Hector’s and Maui’s preferred habitat of waters less the 100 meters deep makes them particularly vulnerable to human activities such as fishing. Gill netting is one of the biggest threats to their survival.



Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are among the smallest dolphins in the world – so small you could fit them in a bathtub. They are the only dolphin species with a rounded dorsal fin, and are also set apart from other dolphins by their behaviour and limited distribution.



Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are only found in shallow water less than 100 meters deep. These dolphins are protected along the West coast of the North Island and East coast of the South Island, but in order to safeguard and grow these small populations these areas need to be expanded.

Click here to see a map of their distribution. 


Legal Challenges 

Commercial fishing groups have legally challenged a previous ban on gill nets, which allowed them greater fishing rights within the Hector dolphin’s habitat. Since 2008, the protection measures placed around Hector’s dolphins has been severely compromised by these legal challenges. 



What has been done:

After a lengthy public consultation on the protection of Maui’s dolphins, in 2013/2014 the government decided to – 

The additional area of protection provided around Pariokariwa.

The additional area of protection provided around Pariokariwa.

•      Retain the set-net ban around Taranaki 

Extend the protection slightly south of Pariokariwa point

Increase observer coverage on fishing vessels to see if any dolphins are caught as by-catch to prioritise research. 




This is a step in the right direction but it falls well short of stopping Maui’s dolphins from becoming extinct. 

What Forest & Bird wants 

Within the next 3 years: 

We want immediate protection of the full range of Maui’s dolphin habitat

•       from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui river, including all five harbours along the west coast of the North Island, and extending offshore to 20nm and 

•       removing all threats within this area including set nets, trawling, marine mining and seismic surveying

In addition to this, we want the Government to help fishers transition to more sustainable fishing methods that can be used within this protected area

We strongly support the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee’s June 2014 recommendation that the Government take urgent action. 

It recommends that they cease seeking further scientific research on Maui’s dolphins and instead concentrate their efforts on to eliminate by-catch of Maui’s dolphins. 

Long-term goals

We want to see a priority on Maui’s and Hectors dolphin research and population targets developed and progress monitored to help ensure the recovery of the rarest dolphins in the world.