Auckland’s coastal communities urged to report rare dolphin sightings

People who live near or visit the west coast of the Auckland region are being urged to report sightings of the rare Māui dolphin.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has a range of work underway to protect Māui dolphins. This subspecies of Hector’s dolphin is found only off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

DOC Biodiversity Ranger Olivia Keane says the known Māui dolphin habitat extends from Taranaki to Northland’s Maunganui Bluff – a swathe of coastline which includes Auckland’s Manukau Harbour, where Māui dolphins have been occasionally seen.

“We’re still building our knowledge of this species, so public sightings reported to us are vital,” Ms Keane says.

Māui dolphins’ usual inshore distribution means the waters that are their home are the same waters that people use for fishing and recreation.

“Although only the hardiest people will be swimming as we head into winter, there are still a lot of people enjoying Auckland’s coastlines – surfers, boaties, beach-combers and people who go fishing.”

Classified as critically endangered, they are distinguishable from other dolphin species by their rounded dorsal fin which resembles an ear of the cartoon character Mickey Mouse.

“If you spot one of these identifiable dorsal fins, we want you to let us know.”

All sightings of Māui dolphins are valuable. The best way to report possible sightings of Māui dolphins is via the Hector’s and Māui Dolphins Sightings App, which can be downloaded from the Apple store and Google Play. App users can upload pictures of the dolphins they see, which helps with identification of the species.

It is suspected Māui dolphins may move further offshore during winter, something DOC staff hope to find more about through working with the non-profit organisation Māui63 and its large fixed-wing drone.

The drone is equipped with high resolution cameras and artificial intelligence to detect the dolphins and will enable surveys of this rare subspecies in the winter months for the first time.

If people discover a Māui dolphin carcass on a beach, they can also help with research on the species, Ms Keane says.

“Encountering a Māui dolphin on the shore will be grim, but we can glean a lot of information from a dead animal – potentially its cause of death and any illnesses it had. We can respond quickly if people alert us by calling 0800 DOC HOT and sharing that information.”

During the summer and early autumn, DOC completed an abundance survey on Māui dolphins – the first since 2016. The results of the survey are expected later this year.

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