Māui and Hector’s dolphins are among the smallest and rarest marine mammals in the world and are New Zealand’s only two endemic dolphin species. Here are some things you might not know about them.
- Māui dolphins are a subspecies of the Hector's dolphin.
- There are only an estimated 54 individuals remaining Māui dolphins, making their conservation status Nationally critical.
- With fewer than 15,000 individuals, Hector’s dolphins are considered Nationally vulnerable.
- Māui dolphins are found exclusively off the west coast of the North Island and prefer sandy or muddy sea-beds and are often seen swimming in close proximity to the shoreline.
- While Hector's dolphins are typically found on the South Island, they can be found in shallow bays, harbours, and estuaries along the east coast of both the North and South Islands, typically in waters less than 100m deep.
- Hector's dolphins generally measure up to 1.4m in length and weighing a maximum of 60kg making them slightly smaller than Māui dolphins. Adult females Māui grow to a maximum length of 1.7m and males 1.5m.
- Both species possess a distinctive black and white coloration, making them highly recognisable in the water, with black dorsal fins and flippers and white undersides.
- Hector’s dolphins are known for their playful and curious behaviour, often jumping out of the water. They are also seen surfing the bow waves of boats and interacting with humans swimming nearby.
- Both species face a range of threats, including habitat loss, toxoplasmosis and other diseases, boat strike, mining, and pollution. Entanglement in fishing gear, particularly set netting, trawling and drift netting, is a particular threat to Māui dolphins due to the extremely small population size of this species.
- Efforts to protect the dolphins have been ongoing for decades, including the establishment of protected areas that prohibit certain types of fishing methods. You can find out more in the Department of Conservation’s Hector's and Maui's Dolphin Threat Management Plan.
WWF are also working with multiple organisations to save these species from extinction. Recent projects have including using new technology like drones and AI and enabling citizen science to track and understand their behaviour and improve our ability to protect them.