The New Zealand Herald

Drop in Maui’s dolphin numbers sparks fresh alarm

- Jamie Morton

A new warning has sounded for the world’s smallest dolphin, with a researcher now reporting there are fewer than 50 Maui’s dolphins left.

Dr Barbara Maas of the NABU Internatio­nal Nature Conservati­on Foundation and Otago University’s Professor Liz Slooten are presenting new research during discussion­s with 200 leading cetacean scientists at the Internatio­nal Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee in San Diego.

Research by Dr Maas reports the numbers of the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin, endemic to our waters, have sunk to an all- time low of between 43 and 47 individual­s, and just 10 to 12 adult females.

She warned that unless the level of fisheries protection was increased significan­tly, the dolphins could become extinct in 15 years.

The subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, found in shallow coastal waters up to depths of 100m off the North Island’s west coast, have become a symbol for environmen­talists challengin­g gill netting and trawling by commercial fishers, and Government oil and gas exploratio­n block offers in habitat areas.

Earlier this year, Auckland councillor­s voted to oppose oil exploratio­n in a sanctuary home to the dolphin, but stopped short of following Christchur­ch City Council and opposing any exploratio­n.

Population numbers — which environmen­talists had put at 55 and the Department of Conservati­on at between 48 and 69 — had dropped 97 per cent as a result of fishing since the 1970s, NABU said. A caretaker at an Auckland school suffered facial burns from a boiler yesterday.

The middle-aged man was taken to Middlemore Hospital in a moderate condition after the incident, initially believed to be a boiler explosion.

Emergency services were called to Greenmeado­ws School in Manurewa about 1.45pm.

Manurewa fire station officer Roy Williams said the man was burned by flames from the coal-fired boiler.

“One of the caretakers had fired it up in the morning and later on he went to check to see if it was working okay,” he said. “Unfortunat­ely, when he opened an inspection cap, he was a little bit too close and his face got burned by the flames inside.”

Greenmeado­ws School board of trustees chairman Ross Barr said the school’s health and safety team would investigat­e. The boiler would not be used until then.

In 2009, Orewa College caretaker Richard Nel died from 90 per cent burns to his body when a boiler exploded.

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