Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on October 24, 2010
There are plenty of things I didn’t know about the Hector’s dolphin. In fact, until recently, my only knowledge of them was the most troubling fact of all – that they’re among the rarest dolphins in the world. But seeing as how I’ve always been fascinated by these amazing creatures, I wanted to know more. And more importantly, I wanted to learn something less troubling about them. And what, if anything, we can do to help them.
Found only off the coast of New Zealand, the Hector’s dolphin was named for Sir James Hector (1834-1907), the curator of what is now the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. The most influential local scientist of his time, Hector was the first to examine this particular species of indigenous dolphin. Primarily grey, black and white with a distinctive stripe running across its belly, this cetacean (air breathing, water living mammal) is the smallest dolphin in New Zealand’s waters and is most recognizable by its lack of discernible beak and its round dorsal fin. (The fins of New Zealand’s other dolphin species are pointed and crescent shaped.)
There are only an estimated 7,400 in left in the entire world
Aside from their beauty and playfulness – if you’ve ever watched dolphins, you can sense how much fun they’re having playing in the surf and exploring the shallow water – what has always fascinated me is the built in sonar they use to track down their prey. Using echolocation (seeing with sound), they send out streams of high frequency noises that travel through the water, bounce quickly off moving objects and then back, easily identifying what sort of fish is out there, where it is and how quickly it’s traveling. Incredible.
Hector’s dolphins live off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island. There are an estimated 7,400 in existence. (The physically and genetically distinct subspecies living off the North Island, known as Maui dolphins, are often considered to be Hector’s dolphins.) Part of the problem with this particular species is its very infrequent breeding. The females (which are larger than the males) don’t become fertile until around age seven, and after that only breed one calf every two to four years.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, there were once over 26,000 Hector’s and Maui dolphins.
Classified as nationally vulnerable by the Department of Conservation (DoC) and endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), Hector’s dolpins won’t survive without our help. Set nets are an enormous threat – the lungs of a Hector’s dolphin are about the size of a human’s, and when trapped in one, it takes about the same length of time for them to drown as it would a person. Another major concern is marine pollution. Not only does polluted water breed disease, there is a large risk of the dolphins eating or getting tangled in plastic bags and other carelessly discarded garbage.
What can we do?
Most obviously, stop polluting the oceans and storm water drains. (And the next time you’re at the beach, feel free to pick up and dispose of some of the trash left by others. The life you save might be a Hector’s dolphin.) You can also write to the New Zealand Minister of Fisheries and let them know that set nets should be banned from Hector’s Dolphins’ habitats, as they have been the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.
We’ve lost so many species already; let’s make Hector proud by keeping his dolphins off the list. To make an online donation to the Hector’s dolphin fund, or for more information on this amazing animal, click here.
Cute video from New Zealand About the Hector Dolphin