World's smallest dolphin nears extinction

Government Stalls as New Zealand Dolphin Nears Extinction
Government Stalls as New Zealand Dolphin Nears Extinction

The world's smallest known dolphin is in danger of going extinct.

Maui's dolphin, a subspecies of Hector's dolphin, is on the brink of extinction, with fewer than 50 left in the wild — all found in New Zealand.

On Tuesday conservationists warned that a "loud wakeup call" had come and that the species may have less than 15 years before it disappears from Earth.

The New Zealand government has been reluctant to act even though the dolphin's declining status has been well-documented for more than a decade, with the population decreasing by more than 90 percent since 1970.

One of the main threats to the dolphins scientists have singled out is set netting, where walls of net are suspended underwater, which can catch the dolphin and drown them.

Although the government has imposed bans on set netting in some areas, they've shied away from the total ban scientists have called for, partially in response to pressure from commercial fishermen who've spoken against it.

"[Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry] and [Department of Conservation] are currently working on a Maui's dolphin recovery plan. I will wait until that plan has been presented before making any decisions on set net bans in Taranaki," Minister for Primary Industries David Carter said.

Since at least 2007, the government's go-to move has been to create panels to create plans to save the dolphin, and then wait until those plans are announced to take action.

But that action hasn't gone far enough, according to groups like the International Whaling Commission, which said last summer the measures implemented so far have fallen "significantly" short of what's needed.

A conservation ministry spokesperson told the BBC the government won't comment on it until after the Whaling Commission issues its own findings in June.