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Help stop the world’s rarest dolphins from dying in fishing nets

hectors dolphin

Hector’s Dolphins SOS….

We can never know how many of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin’s die in fishing nets every year. Many reports are under-estimated and require self reporting by fishermen.

Even so, some organisations claim up to 150 Hector’s dolphins are killed in nets each year.

Fair to say, the Hector’s and Maui dolphins are still in need of urgent help.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has recently asked the public to help them decide how Hector’s dolphins can be further protected from fishing nets around the South Island. They’ve outlined 4 options, and in this blog we will explain why option 4 is the best for saving lives, whilst also asking for additional measures to be added. 

 

Anyone, including you, can submit which option they support and why. It is due by 6 December 2021 and can be submitted via email dolphinTMP@mpi.govt.nz or by this survey.

 

If you want more information on the four options, you can read the Ministry for Primary Industries 50 page report, or watch this video (starts at 5.15) but we’ve summarised it below.

We’ve been advocating for additional protection for the dolphins for some time. Some new fishing restrictions were brought in last year, but they were far from perfect. You can read more about our take on the 2020 protections here. 

In particular, we were very concerned that the plan opened up a ‘death zone’ off Akaroa Harbour. As of now, fishers can use nets outside of Akaroa Harbour. And is some months inside the harbour too.

 

The Options from Ministry for Primary Industries

Option 1:

Do nothing. The Ministry themselves accept this is not an option.

Option 2:

A plan to ‘work together’. Fishers will try to stop catching dolphins, and when they do, they must report it. This involves the use of monitoring cameras on fishers’ boats. If they keep catching dolphins, the ministry will give advice and maybe suggest some extra preventative measures. The issue here is that there are no enforced obligations to change fishing habits. It might take years for real change to take place. In the meantime, dolphins will continue to die. It’s like choosing not to install fire alarms in your first home. Then, only after it burns down, do you decide it’s a good time to take some preventative measures. It’s too little, too late.

Option 3:

Will look at making some changes to trawl fishing in certain areas of the South Island. Namely, reducing the speed of boats with nets attached (to 4kph), and making the net opening smaller (1M height). These measures, as admitted by the report itself, may not even make a difference. The success of these supposed ‘preventive’ measures are all based on seven anecdotes from fishers. This is an extremely small sample of evidence, which also has no scientific backing. We’d rather not put our faith in a maybe. 

Not only this, but option 3 keeps the death zone right outside of Akaroa harbour open. Look at the maps below. The yellow areas on the left map show the current areas where trawl fishing is banned. The map on the right shows orange areas where extra restrictions will be imposed, but the gap between the orange creates another death zone. Given what we’ve said about the doubt we have of these restrictions, this option has few merits overall.

hectors dolphin

Option 4:

Increases the areas which ban set nets, as seen in the figure below. This means larger areas where dolphins are safe from set-nets, which can make an immediate difference to the number of dolphins caught. The extended areas can be seen in the dark blue areas highlighted in the map below. This is good news and one which Black Cat  Cruises and the Ministry for Primary Industries support. While it’s the best option of the four, it is still lacking. For a start, it makes no changes to trawl-net fishing, which is just as dangerous. Trawl-fishers will continue operating right outside of Akaroa harbour.

akaroa dolphin map

What we’re going to ask for on top of Option 4

All four options are written on the basis that a certain amount of ‘by catch’ is acceptable to New Zealanders. We don’t think that’s right. The plan calls for a goal to catch/kill around 33 dolphins a year on the East Coast of the South Island each year. It’s claimed that’s a sustainable goal and it will maintain the population of dolphins to 80% of historic levels. We want to stop the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of dolphins, and in doing so make the population soar back to 100% of historic levels.

akaroa hectors dolphins

If we’re serious about making a real positive impact on the dolphins, there should have been an additional option….

The International Union for conservation of nature (ICUN) made a clear recommendation years ago. They called for consistent protection throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep; a ban to set and trawl net fishing in these areas. The map below shows what they have in mind, with red being areas that can be net-fished commercially, and green being areas where net fishing is banned.

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2021, the Director General said that the vast majority of IUCN Resolutions have been acted on. Only 8% of the Resolutions are being ignored by the relevant countries. Unfortunately, New Zealand is part of this group of 8%. This is an embarrassment.

We will ask for the ICUN’s option to be added to the proposed list, as the other options do not make enough of a difference. Also, the plan is completely silent on the ability to be able to set nets in the upper parts of Akaroa and Lyttelton harbours,  Pigeon Bay and Port Levy from April to September which we know are a clear threat to dolphins. That is very disappointing, and we will ask for these areas to be specifically banned to all net-fishing.

 

Conclusion

Whilst we appreciate the ability to engage further on dolphin protection, the options (with the exception of closing the death zone) won’t have much impact on dolphin protection.

We have chosen to focus this blog post primarily on the areas surrounding Banks Peninsula. This is because it’s the area directly relevant to Black Cat Cruises, and where we have the most experience with the current issues of ‘bycatching’. Continue to follow our social media for a blog post in the future which addresses bycatching nation-wide.

We need a future-focused conservation option. We need more significant protection. We need the population of Hector’s Dolphins to soar above the endangered level. We need the option to implement full protection out to 100m in depth (where Hector’s Dolphins live).

 

What would we like you to do now?

If you’d like to consult on the plan, please go ahead. Add your voice to the conversation. Black Cat Cruises will be supporting option 4, and asking for additional protection in line with the IUCN option – limiting nets throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep.

We understand that fishers need to catch fish. However, putting bans in these small areas, which are already so close to the shore, will keep our beautiful native dolphin species alive.

CLICK HERE TO HAVE YOUR SAY 

April School Holiday Fun – Quail Island’s Big Beautiful Bird Trail

april school holiday activity for kids

School holiday fun is here on Quail Island!

If you are looking for a school holiday activity in Christchurch then look no further….
Best of all adults cruise at kids prices throughout the April school holidays ($15 return per person).
So what’s it all about?
Well, six native New Zealand birds are hiding around Quail Island.
These Big Beautiful Birds have been painted in watercolour by a local Lyttelton artist. Each piece of art has been blown up and printed on very large boards, so they look amazing and will be hard to miss. You will also be given a map to help you locate all of the birds. Each bird is accompanied by some facts to help teach our younger generation about our native wildlife.
So we invite you to come and explore Quail island and find them all, whilst learning about each bird.
Complete our fun fact sheet and we’ll reward you with surprise treats on your boat ride back to Lyttelton.
A boat ride, fresh air, education, exercise, nature and fun all rolled into one!
The April school holiday starts on Saturday April 17th and goes through to Sunday May 2nd, 2021
Boat departs twice daily from B Jetty in Lyttleton harbour.
Departures:
10.15am and 12.15pm
Return:
12.30pm and 3.30pm
Online booking is recommended which you can do right here

How Many Hector’s are left? In Discussion With Professor Liz Slooten and Black Cat Cruises

Hi guys, we hope you are all keeping safe and well.

Over the last month here at Black Cat we’ve taken time to pause, take a deep breath and connect with family and friends either in our bubble or online. We’ve also been busy working on projects so that when the time is right we can safely return to cruising the waters in Akaroa and Lyttelton.

During this time we also reached out to a long standing friend of ours, marine mammal and Hector’s dolphin expert Professor Liz Slooten. We’ve worked alongside Professor Slooten since we first started operating back in 1985. She is a wealth of knowledge and true champion and advocate for New Zealand’s endemic and endangered dolphin.

Black Cat Cruises Skipper Julian Yates jumped online to have a good chat with Liz about life as a marine mammal scientist and her experiences in the field, along with many other important topics including the current estimate of the Hector’s dolphin population.

We can’t wait to get back out on the water with you all when it is safe to do so.

In the meantime stay safe, be kind and have a watch below…..

Full length Hector’s Dolphin Wildlife Discussion April 2020

We have also created a short edited version for those that may like to watch….

Celebrate Seaweek 2020

Celebrate Seaweek 2020 by cruising stunning Lyttelton Harbour with Black Cat Cruises and the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust! Each cruise will also host a very special expert guest from the trust, so you can you learn directly from the scientists studying Hector’s dolphins.

What is Seaweek?

Seaweek – Kaupapa Moana is New Zealand’s annual national week celebrating the sea which takes place from Saturday 29 February to Sunday 8 March 2020.

Seaweek Lyttelton Harbour Cruise

Step aboard our spacious catamaran, Canterbury Cat and search for the endangered Hector’s dolphin as you’re taken on a guided cruise around Lyttelton Harbour along with a special scientific guest from the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust.

The cruise will last for 1.5 hours and all profits will be donated to the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust.

DATES:

29 February 2020
7 March 2020
8 March 2020

TIME:

1:30PM – 3:00PM

TICKETS:

Adults: $30.00
Children (5-15 years): $20.00
Children under 5: FREE

Conservation Week 2019

Starting tomorrow is Department of Conservation – Conservation Week 2019! This year proudly celebrates 50 years of Conservation Week here in NZ – an amazing feat! The week runs from the 14th of September through to the 22nd of September 2019 in locations all over New Zealand.

Why do we need a Conservation Week?

New Zealand’s wildlife is still in crisis with more than 4,000 of our native animals (including the Hector’s dolphin) and plants threatened or at risk. Conservation Week is a chance to bring everyone together to do something, big or small to create change.

Every year Conservation Week sees thousands of New Zealanders getting involved through doing conservation activities at home or attending one of many events hosted across the country. Creating change can be big or small, when we pull together, we can make a big difference.

Black Cat and Conservation

Black Cat may be well known as a tourism operator, but did you know that we’re also a leader in environmental management?  From reducing energy consumption to donating a portion of every passenger fare to dolphin conservation, Black Cat takes extra measures to ensure the preservation of our environment. We have recently also been nominated for the Conservation Awards at the 2019 NZ Tourism Awards.

Hector’s Dolphin

New Zealand’s first eco-tourism operator

Established in 1985 as Akaroa Harbour Cruises, we can claim to be New Zealand’s first eco-tourism enterprise.  We launched with the intention of showing off Hector’s dolphins as well as the other creatures and scenery of Banks Peninsula.  Naturally, such a reliance on the natural environment encouraged Black Cat to foster a keen interest in maintaining the health and beauty of Akaroa Harbour right from the start.

Actions to protect the environment

Black Cat works hard to protect the environment.  First, we reduce our energy consumption (we aim for an annual reduction of 1% per person) through actions such as:

  • Maintaining our vessels for maximum efficiency
  • Encouraging our staff to walk or bike to work
  • Monitoring fuel usage
  • Using energy saving light bulbs and efficient heating

We also take care to minimise the by-products from the energy we do use.  By recycling and using biodegradable cleaning products, Black Cat is able to reduce the amount of waste resulting from our operation.

Education and advocacy

Black Cat takes pride in giving back to the environment and the community through advocacy, education and sponsorship.  Each year we donate at least $70,000 to programmes that support causes like marine mammal research and education, Quail Island restoration and penguin predator trapping.

In February 2019, we launched the Protect Hector’s campaign to increase public awareness of the threat to Hector’s dolphins and the vital need for their protection. The campaign focussed on encouraging individuals to get involved in the 2019 Threat Management Plan consultation.  We created a landing page within the Black Cat Cruises website where people can fill in their details and a postcard will be sent on their behalf to Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, calling for better protection for Hector’s. Physical postcards were also placed on all Black Cat’s boats in both Lyttelton and Akaroa.

We also have a strong commitment to marine environment education and the plight of the Hector’s dolphin in schools.  In 2017, Black Cat developed a new marine based educational resource for schools and the pilot programme launched Nov 2017. The programme included resource books for teachers and corresponding workbook for the students aimed at Year 3 and 4 students.  

What is Black Cat Cruises doing for Conservation Week?

To celebrate 50 years of Conservation Week, Black Cat Cruises is letting kids cruise for free from the 14th-22nd of September! (T’s and C’s apply).

Come along with your family and discover the natural wonders of Akaroa Habour aboard our award-winning 2-hour Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise.

This fun 2 hour cruise suitable for all ages is packed with stunning highlights including the endemic (only found in NZ) and playful Hector’s dolphin, as well as White-flippered Little Blue penguins, NZ Fur seals and abundant birdlife. You’ll see giant volcanic sea cliffs, view dramatic scenery and hear about Akaroa’s fascinating past. Cruises depart every day, weather permitting.

Akaroa Harbour Nature Kids

Conservation Week Special!

? Kids Cruise Free during Conservation Week (14–22 Sept)
? One child free per paying adult
? Direct bookings only via phone, email or online at the Black Cat website using promocode NATURE
? Kids will also receive a free Hector’s dolphin fun activity book to learn all about the endangered Hector’s dolphin!

TO BOOK:

Online: www.blackcat.co.nz using promo code NATURE
Phone: 0800 436 574
Email: akaroa@blackcat.co.nz

Please quote promo code: NATURE

Finalists in the 2019 NZ Tourism Awards

We are so excited to share that we are finalists in the 2019 New Zealand Tourism Awards – (Department of Conservation Conservation Award).

Finalist’s in the 2019 NZ Tourism Awards

An amazing honour to be alongside the other fantastic finalists in our category – Auckland Whale & Dolphin SafariAuckland Zoo,Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony.

We are very proud of our incredible team and their commitment to protecting the Banks Peninsula marine environment and its inhabitants, especially the endangered Hector’s dolphin. 

This is a great honour that recognises not only the work put in to campaign for better protection of the Hector’s dolphins this year, but also the education and information we pass onto our customers each and every day.

Stay tuned for the results late October 2019! Yahhhooo.

Full press release CLICK HERE

Vote for Black Cat Cruises for the Peoples Choice Award!

As part of being a finalist, there is also a Peoples Choice Award up for grabs and this is YOUR chance to vote for your favourite NZ tourism experience.

We would love it if you chose us! Please click the link below and vote for Black Cat Cruises as your People’s Choice!

Plus, as a bonus for voting you’ll be in for a chance to WIN an Air New Zealand Mystery Break™ including:

✈️ Return airfares to a New Zealand mystery destination
? Two nights twin share accommodation
? Transfer to & from airport to destination

Voting closes 20 September!

Hector’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan – What You Need to Know

We’ve unlocked the mystery behind the recently released Threat Management Plan (from here in we’ll call it the TMP). It’s a very complex document which will bamboozle and confuse the average New Zealander. And even some of the best brains in this space took many hours to understand it!

The TMP outlines recommendations to the Ministers’ of Conservation and Fisheries for further protection of Hector’s and Māui dolphins. 


It’s a once in 20 year chance to make a positive impact on our precious native dolphins. Government is now calling for public submissions on the plan by 19th August 2019.

We’ve analysed the document from a Banks Peninsula perspective (sorry we did not look at proposed changes outside of Canterbury).

4 Things You Need to Know

  1. The TMP will allow up to 49 Hector’s dolphins to be caught in nets per year off the East Coast of the South Island of NZ. Apparently this is acceptable because we can let that many drown, and the population will recover to become thriving again! We don’t think that a plan that calls for one dead dolphin a week is acceptable.
  2. Option 3, the best scenario for the dolphins proposes protection north and south of Banks Peninsula but leaves a huge unprotected hole near Akaroa. We’ve called this the ‘death zone’. This will force fishermen currently operating in Pegasus Bay and Timaru to fish off Akaroa creating an even worse situation than today for the local dolphin population. 
  3. Given the above, it seems to ignore the vital economic value created by Hector’s dolphins off Akaroa. The total estimated economic value from set netting is $3.5M and trawl fishing is $8.7M per year in the South Island. (there is no information of how these numbers were derived). Eco-tourism drives $25M per year for Banks Peninsula alone. The proposed option 3 changes reduces fishing revenue by just $170,000 per year in Pegasus Bay and $870,000 in South Canterbury. A small amount compared to the tourism benefits. Further extension to close the ‘death zone’ will also have very minor economic impact.
  4. The TMP is silent on allowing flounder nets inside Akaroa and Lyttelton during the winter months. It’s therefore proposing for this to continue placing risks for the dolphins in the upper harbours. We know for sure dolphins have been caught in these nets recently. Here’s a press article discussing it. 

Where are the Dolphins?

The death zone has been justified in the TMP because sightings are seemingly lower off Akaroa. This is simply incorrect and goes against everything we know about the dolphins. 

There are many dolphin sightings in the death zone as mapped out below using data from many surveys since 2002. 

The TMP has tried to model the habitat of dolphins using a number of assumptions. One is related to public sightings; clearly there aren’t many recreational boats 10 miles off the Akaroa heads! The second is related to water clarity. They have assumed where the water is quite clear, there aren’t many dolphins. This is pretty bad science given the sighting data we have from Otago University. 

The Hector’s population around Banks Peninsula is the largest in NZ. The TMP says, therefore it’s OK for many to die in nets. A scenario that’s not acceptable and is completely at odds with our international brand position. 

The dolphins face many threats around our national coast lines. Some other sub populations may not survive meaning the Banks Peninsula population has to be strong and thriving. There is no room for set nets. The TMP calls for the BP population to recover to 80% of its carrying capacity (ie best case population) whereas the stakeholder working groups all agreed that 90-95% was more appropriate.

Toxo is a Red Herring

A brief note on Toxoplasmosis which features in the TMP. This is a disease probably contained in cat poo (yes) washing into rivers with the dolphins somehow ingesting enough to kill them. There have been some dead dolphins examined on beaches with toxoplasmosis being the most likely final cause of death. This may be an issue for the dolphins or may not. We simply don’t have enough reliable information. 

We know right now 100% that nets are killing dolphins and we have the chance to deal with it today. Toxo is forgive the pun a complete red herring. For this to be included as major threat (and greater than fishing) in the TMP is a significant issue and calls into question the whole integrity of the process.

When is a Sanctuary Not a Sanctuary?

The TMP proposes to expand the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary out to 20 miles and further up and down the coast, which at a quick read sounds like good news. However we need to be clear that the sanctuary only provides protection for non-fishing threats such as restrictions on seismic surveying and seabed mining. The TMP contradicts itself by calling for non-fishing protection out to 20 miles (ie accepting there are dolphins in this range to be protected), but then allowing fishing within the sanctuary by seemingly saying there are few dolphins in the range.

How Can You Help?

Please help the dolphins by emailing this address dolphintmp@doc.govt.nz. outlining your concerns about the situation above.

  1. A plan calling for one dead Hector’s dolphin a week is not acceptable. 
  2. The death zone off Banks Peninsula is not acceptable. We need net bans all around the peninsula where the dolphins range including in the area off Akaroa Heads.
  3. Expand the netting ban to include flounder nets in the upper harbours from April to Sept. 
  4. Support option 3 of the plan around Canterbury BUT with further extensions out to 100m in depth. 
  5. Support the TMP proposal for a larger marine mammal sanctuary to protect against mining and other non fishing threats in future. 

The best way to make an impact is by sending a personal email with your concerns to dolphintmp@doc.govt.nz or you can fill in one of the on-line surveys here or here or here

Submissions close Monday 19 August 2019.

At the end of the consultation period, DOC and Fisheries New Zealand will analyse your submissions and present them to the Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation for their decision. 

Swim for Hector’s

A team from Black Cat Cruises and the Department of Conservation recently swam across Akaroa Harbour from Tikao Bay to Akaroa Main Beach, to help raise awareness for the protection of the Hector’s dolphin. An amazing feat for an amazing cause!

Video captured by: Michael Roberts
The swim went from Tikao Bay accross to Akaroa Main Beach

The reason behind the swim

Swimming across Akaroa Harbour wasn’t an easy task, but the team had a very worthy reason as to why they wanted to complete this epic journey – the protection of the beloved Hector’s dolphin.

Hector’s dolphins are one of the world’s rarest dolphin species. It’s estimated there are somewhere between 8000 to 15000 Hectors left – fewer than 30% of their original population. And their close cousin, the North Island Maui dolphin has just 55 individuals.

Hector’s dolphins are one of the world’s rarest dolphin species

The greatest threat to the Hector’s is getting caught and drowned in set nets. As their name suggests, fishers drop the net to the ocean floor and come back later to pull it up. Unfortunately, the net is very difficult for a dolphin to detect and they drown if caught.

We’re seeking to ensure the Banks Peninsula Sanctuary is a safe place for dolphins. We want to see an an extension of the commercial set net ban out to 100m depth (around 20 miles). In addition an extension of the sanctuary up and down the South Island. 

Key Messages:

  • Ensure the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary is a safe place for dolphins.
  • Secure an extension of the commercial ban out to 100m depth (around 20 miles).
  • Secure an extension of the Marine Mammal Sanctuary up and down the South Island.

The Hector’s and Māui dolphins Threat Management Plan is coming up for review shortly and we have a small window of time to help. We are calling on our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to put much needed better protection in place for these endemic and endangered dolphins.

Send your postcard of support

Click the link and fill in your details and we will send a handwritten postcard on your behalf to the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

Send a postcard to the Prime Minister