NZ's endangered Hector's dolphin population stabilises, prompting calls for more protection

Scientists and tourism operators are joining forces, calling for better protection of the endangered Hector's dolphin species in the South Island.

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Scientists and tourist operators have joined forces to call for better protection of the endangered species. Source: 1 NEWS

With around 15,000 Hector's dolphins remaining, the current existing laws aren't doing enough to protect the endangered species from extinction, experts are warning.

Breeding at a low rate each year, the number of dolphins caught in commercial fisheries' nets is a major risk to the survival of the species, researchers say. 

"The most recent official estimate is 100 to 150 a year of Hector's and Maui dolphins killed in gill nets," Otago University zoology professor Liz Slooten told 1 NEWS.

At Banks Peninsula, though, the number of Hector's dolphins has stablised. Experts credit a 2008 law banning commercial practices in some areas.

A current review could see protection for Hector's dolphins extend to a depth of 100 metres, around 20 kilometres from shore.

"They're protected up to four nautical miles off-shore, but of course the dolphins don't really care about off-shore distance, they care about depth," says University of Otago's Head of Marine Science, Steve Dawson.

"Since there has been some protections put in for them, the survival rate has gone up," Ms Slooten added.

"If we can improve that protection, take it out to the 100m mark, then we would see the population not just stabalise but grow and recover."

Tourism operators are also behind the suggested changes.

"If you have to bring in economics to it, there are 400 jobs either directly or indirectly related to Hector's dolphin tourism at Banks Peninsula and that equates to around roughly $25-30 million economic added value," said Paul Bingham of Black Cat Cruises.