Dolphins that are adapted to elude killer whales are facing extinction because of something far worse


Tiny, Unique, and Nearly Gone from Wikiwhale on Vimeo.
Update:  Ask McDonald’s to stop buying their fish from New Zealand – please sign this new petition. When tweeting, please use @Mcdonalds and #MauisDolphinSOS.
The tiny Maui’s dolphin, whose evolutionary path has out-maneuvered that of the brainiest predator in the ocean – the killer whale – now faces near extinction at the hands of man. In a few short decades this unique dolphin and its close relative the Hector’s dolphin have been decimated by greed and corruption.

How these small dolphins avoid killer whales. Creative Commons
How these small dolphins avoid killer whales. Creative Commons

For millennia the little dolphins thrived in spite of several types of killer whales that navigate the region. These cute dolphins with ‘Mickey Mouse ear’ dorsal fins have developed an evolutionary trick – their sonar is too high pitched for the orcas to hear. The dolphins have abandoned whistling and instead have adapted their sonar to communicate with each other as well as to navigate and locate prey. (Read more about this fascinating adaptation here and here.)
Their home range is restricted to shallow (100 meter) depths that tend to be ‘acoustically cluttered’, further making them hard to detect.
But while perfectly adapted to an open environment, they run afoul of nets and an indifferent government. The future of the remaining 43 – 47 Maui’s dolphins left in existence is dependent upon preventing just two types of fishing – gill netting and trawling – in the small region off the coast New Zealand that this species calls home.
Yet New Zealand’s Minister for Primary Industries, Hon Nathan Guy. refuses to take action. Worse, an academic paper has emerged that implicates him in failing to report half of the fish taken by commercial boats, and for allowing cover-up of dolphin deaths.
13226803_10209369991944454_5022870389283449598_n maui hector graphic

scoop.nz reports:
Auckland, 16 May 2016 – Greenpeace is calling for an independent investigation of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in light of an explosive academic report released today, which finds that the quantity of fish caught in New Zealand is more than twice what is officially recorded.
…Of the total catch from foreign and New Zealand flagged vessels, commercial discards were estimated to be as high as 37.4% of fish caught. Unreported landings from the industrial sectors made up 18.3%.
“That means nearly twenty percent of all fish caught are stolen and over a third are thrown back. The waste is mind boggling,” says [Executive Director of Greenpeace New Zealand, Russel Norman].
…The University of Auckland’s report also reveals a situation where multiple vulnerable Hector’s dolphins were caught, and only one reported. This follows on from allegations that surfaced just last Friday, in a study by German conservation organisation, NABU International, that revealed a critically endangered Maui dolphin catch cover-up by MPI. Norman says Greenpeace is demanding an independent investigation into the government department.
“Not only has the catch been more than double what has been recorded, but it appears that MPI have known and kept it quiet,” he says. “MPI must now release any visual evidence they have hidden, and let all New Zealanders see what is going on out at sea. ”

The dolphins are facing extinction because of the profits gained from overseas sales, not because of a need to feed the population of New Zealand. Seafood New Zealand reports that $1.71 billion ($1.17 billion U.S.) was made from exporting seafood to foreign countries:

The strongest value growth is from exports of frozen fin fish with rock lobster, orange roughy, fish meal and mussels also returning increased prices.

China accounts for nearly one third of total seafood export value.
The second most valuable market is Australia followed by the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Spain, France, Germany and Thailand.

The word "Maui" from the Maui's dolphin's name comes from te Ika-a-Māui, the Māori word for New Zealand's North Island. (Wikipedia)
The word “Maui” from the Maui’s dolphin’s name comes from te Ika-a-Māui, the Māori word for New Zealand’s North Island. (Wikipedia)

The Maui’s dolphins, and their close relative the Hector’s dolphin, need a break and time to recover. You can help by refusing to buy seafood caught in New Zealand, and by volunteering to help spread the word to pressure the government of New Zealand to fully protect the remaining dolphins.

Find out more:

Why is the government ignoring its own research on orcas in setting captivity standards? What you can do.

(Courtesy Orca Network)
(Courtesy Orca Network)

After a 14 year delay, the federal government has finally decided to update the standards of care for captive whales and dolphins.
Sort of.
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, the updated standards do very little for the animals – for instance they don’t change the minimum tank size standard.

The current space standards were set over 30 years ago and have no basis in science or even best practices within the captive display industry.
As an example, for up to two orcas, a facility need only provide a circular tank with a diameter twice as wide and a depth half as deep as an average adult orca is long.
This standard does not even allow the animal to position itself fully in the vertical plane (its tail would touch and drag on the bottom before the animal reaches full upright orientation).
 

The government (USDA) claims to be ignorant of any scientific literature that demonstrates the need that whales and dolphins have for space…yet that information is readily available, and in some cases was even funded by the government. The research shows  that orcas travel as much as 120 miles a day, and regularly dive over 500 ft deep.

This graphic compares a single dive by a wild orca to the legal tank size.
This graphic compares a single dive by a wild orca to the legal tank size.

Having paid for, completed, and published data that show the woeful inadequacies of keeping whales in tanks, why in the world won’t they change the standards?
The recent death of a killer whale with tagging fragments found embedded in his body has forced NOAA to reconsider the invasive methods they were using to find out where the orcas go in the winter.  What is the point of harming an endangered species if the government is just going to ignore the data when it comes to helping captive whales?
You can let the government know your thoughts on this issue by using the Animal Welfare Institute’s convenient link, or go directly to the federal page for more detailed information.

In this file photo taken Jan. 18, 2014, a satellite-linked transmitter is visible on the dorsal fin of L87, an orca from the southern resident group of killer whales, while swimming in Puget Sound west of Seattle. Federal biologists have temporarily halted the satellite tagging program after another endangered Puget Sound orca was found dead, with pieces of a dart tag lodged in its fin. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Ocean says the initial exam of the 20-year-old whale found off Vancouver Island last month found no clear cause of death. (AP Photo, Elaine Thompson, File)
“In this file photo taken Jan. 18, 2014, a satellite-linked transmitter is visible on the dorsal fin of L87, an orca from the southern resident group of killer whales, while swimming in Puget Sound west of Seattle. Federal biologists have temporarily halted the satellite tagging program after another endangered Puget Sound orca was found dead, with pieces of a dart tag lodged in its fin. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Ocean says the initial exam of the 20-year-old whale found off Vancouver Island last month found no clear cause of death. (AP Photo, Elaine Thompson, File)”. PhysOrg

What you can do:
If it is on or before May 4th 2016, you can easily submit your comment to the government during their public comment period by clicking here.
Contact your Congressperson at any point!