Dolphin advocate to speak to IWC

Liz Slooten
Liz Slooten
A Dunedin scientist heading to the latest International Whaling Commission meeting says it will be embarrassing to speak on New Zealand's reluctance to offer full protection to Maui's dolphins given its stance on Japanese whaling.

University of Otago Assoc Prof Liz Slooten will present a paper to the commission's small cetaceans (marine mammals) scientific committee in Slovenia late next week on the effectiveness of the Government's extensions to protected areas for Maui's dolphins in 2012 and 2013.

"New Zealand went into bat saying we musn't kill Minke whales, which number in their thousands and are found all over the world . . . yet in their own waters there are only 55 endemic dolphins left and they're sitting on their hands - that's pretty embarrassing,'' she said yesterday.

Her research showed the small extensions put in place on protected areas last November would reduce the estimated fishing net-related deaths of Maui's dolphins from five each year to three to four.

However, data indicated there was still substantial overlap between New Zealand dolphins and gill net and trawl fisheries - the main causes of Maui's dolphins deaths - and did not reduce the risk of them being caught to zero, a move which was needed if the species was to recover from its 55 low, she said.

"Population recovery is unlikely under the current protection measures.''

She would explain the situation to the sub-committee, which in 2012 and 2013 issued strong statements recommending Maui's dolphins be protected from fishing by-catch.

The latest presentation would be made at the same time the commission would be discussing a United Nations' court decision ruling Japanese whaling was not scientific and the Japanese attempts to make it so.

Her paper outlined how the New Zealand fisheries agencies, in an attempt to balance exploitation and conservation, had only taken the smallest management steps they considered "politically defensible''.

"Ensuring full protection of Maui's dolphins in all areas throughout their habitat, together with an ample buffer zone, will minimise the risk of bycatch and maximise the chance of population increase,'' her paper said.

Prof Slooten was hoping the full scientific committee, of 160 scientists, would discuss her paper and again release recommendations on the protection of the Maui's dolphins.

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