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Mutilated Dolphins Washed up on our Shores

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Contributor:
Rob West
Rob West

Another mutilated Hector’s dolphin found washed up on a beach has been reported to conservation group Forest & Bird. Its abdomen had been slashed with a knife.
 
The dolphin – found on Moeraki Beach in Otago on January 21 – is the latest case of deliberate mutilation of endangered native Hector’s dolphins.
 
The dolphin is part of an increasing trend for mutilated Hector’s dolphins to be found.
 
Forest & Bird late last year obtained under the Official Information Act a record of 36 cases of dolphins found mutilated since 1980, including five cases from the 1980s, 14 cases from the 1990s and 17 cases since 2000. This new reported mutilation brings the tally to 18 since 2000 and 37 cases overall.
 
A Massey University pathologist who autopsied the dolphin reported that its wound was inflicted after death, but could not confidently say the dolphin was fishing bycatch.
 
Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says it is feared that mutilations may be inflicted by unscrupulous fishers who have accidentally caught Hector’s dolphins in their nets and are trying to hide the evidence by cutting up the dolphins and burying the body parts or letting them sink.
 
Forest & Bird wants to see a nationwide ban on set nets, which are used to catch fish in coastal waters where Hector's dolphins live. The small dolphins get tangled in the nets and drown.
 
Hector’s dolphins also get caught and drown in fishing trawl nets. An Otago resident in January filmed a fishing trawler off Moeraki with two Hector’s dolphins riding its bow wave. The close contact the dolphins have with fishing boats shows the importance of Ministry of Fisheries observers on board boats in waters where Hector’s dolphins live. 
 
Hector’s dolphins are an endangered species.  A sub-species, Maui’s dolphin, numbers just 111 individuals, and is critically endangered.
 
Last May the government announced measures to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, including marine mammal sanctuaries and bans on set netting in the coastal waters where the dolphins are most often found.
 
Five commercial fishing companies have legally challenged the fishing measures, and the High Court will hear the case in April. Meanwhile, an injunction is in place so commercial set net fishing can continue in some areas where Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are found.
 
Forest & Bird urges people to report illegal fishing activity to the Ministry of Fisheries.

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