In an attempt to help protect the now critically endangered Māui dolphin, Sea Shepherd hopes a US court will ban New Zealand seafood. New Zealand’s government is not doing enough to protect one of its native dolphin species. The country’s seafood exports to the US amount to about NZ$200 million.

The unique Māui dolphin is home only to New Zealand’s waters. It is one of the smallest marine dolphin species in the world and also one of the rarest. The west coast of the North Island is the only place in the world where these unique creatures live, and there are only 54 individuals left.

A report leaked to Radio New Zealand two days ago says this means their number has fallen by 14 percent over the past five years. RNZ Fisheries reporter Conan Young reported that a Department of Conservation (DOC) showed these figures in its latest research. Fishing, diseases such as toxoplasmosis, oil and gas exploration, collisions with boats, mining, tourism and noise are all threats to the Māui dolphins.

The New Zealand government has hired Trade Pacific Law, a top Washington firm, to represent it at the hearing held in New York this Friday (3rd September). However, it has failed to implement a recommendation from the International Whaling Commission to ban all trawl and set nets to a depth of 100 meters in Māui dolphin habitat.

The US can ban seafood imports whenever a country doesn’t apply protections similar to those in its own waters. The US Court of International Trade will consider banning New Zealand seafood imports because Māui dolphins are almost extinct. According to Liz Slooten, a University of Otago Zoology emeritus professor, the fishing industry should take this issue more seriously. Māui dolphins are an iconic part of New Zealand’s natural heritage. If they’re not protected better, they will be lost forever.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Māui dolphins were everywhere, together with other native dolphin species such as the Hector dolphin. “And they were familiar, and they were common. We have terms that describe them as ‘abundant’, ‘common’, ‘numerous’, ‘frequently observed’, and ‘plentiful’ — right up until the 1960s,” Gemma McGrath told Radio New Zealand in December when she presented the results of her historical and scientific research into the presence of the native dolphin species in New Zealand waters.

The Māui dolphin has distinctive grey, white and black markings. Unlike most other dolphins, their snouts have no prominent beak. They are the only New Zealand dolphins with a flat, black dorsal fin ‘that looks like one of Mickey Mouse’s ears’, writes the New Zealand DOC on its website.

© Sitara Morgenster

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