Yesterday, Monday, April 6th, a dead Hector’s dolphin was discovered in Akaroa harbour. The cause of death was drowning by set net. This happened just days after the legal set netting summer ban had been lifted.
A local man found the dead dolphin and alerted Black Cat Cruises, who in turn alerted both DOC and local researchers, and sent out a boat to locate the dead mammal.
Hector’s dolphins are the world’s smallest and rarest marine mammal and are endemic to New Zealand. As a company and a community we are extremely disappointed to see this happen. The region has taken great steps in the creation and opening of the marine mammal sanctuary and newly opened marine reserve.
University of Otago marine biologist Professor Elisabeth Slooten happened to be in Akaroa for Easter and we able to examine the dead dolphin. Together they have studied Hector’s dolphins for more than thirty years and have dissected more than 130.
The young male Hector’s dolphin, which was 123 centimetres long was likely to be only four or five years old. “A firm estimate of age can only be gained from looking at growth layers in the teeth” Prof Dawson said.
“Going from its size and lack of tooth wear, this dolphin was probably 4-5 years old. They can live to well over 20 years. The dolphin was in good condition, apparently healthy, and would have reached maturity within the next couple of years”
It is extremely sad that at one end of the harbour we now have this wonderful marine reserve yet at the other end it is legal for 6 months of the year to set nets which are proven to be deadly to this endangered species.
Setting nets for flatfish in the inner parts of Akaroa Harbour is legal from April 1 to 30 September. ‘’The problem is that dolphins use this area surprisingly often, even in the depths of winter’’, Prof Dawson said.
Biologists estimate only 7000 Hector’s dolphins remain in South Island waters.
There is currently a petition started by marine experts to ban nets and trawling in the areas that Hector’s dolphins inhabit. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/818/564/528/ban-gillnets-and-trawling-in-mauis-and-hectors-dolphin-habitat/#next_action
Black Cat Cruises, who are recognised as New Zealand first ever eco-tourism operator, employs over 50 members of staff alone and have been cruising the waters of Akaroa for 30 years. Whilst tourism is the backbone of business in Akaroa, which the dolphins single handily spearhead, this isn’t an argument about commercial loss or gain. The fact is that the set netting that is occurring in Akaroa harbour is for recreational purposes.
To call for a complete ban on year round set netting would not have an impact to anyone’s livelihood. ‘’To wipe out the world’s most endangered species of dolphin would be a huge loss commercially but an incomprehensible loss environmentally’’ said Natasha Lombart, Black Cat Cruises Sales and Marketing Manager.
In over 30 years of operation it was this summer that Black Cat Cruises captured their most magnificent footage of the Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa harbour on both their dolphin swim, and Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise. They are the reason that visitor’s come to Akaroa from New Zealand and all over the world. We look forward to the day that we can post on this blog that there has been a complete set net ban. If you agree please comment below…