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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Around the world today there are many species threatened with extinction. Frogs, bats, sharks, parrots, tigers, owls, rhinos, and dolphins are struggling to survive on the fringes of a human world. It would be unfair to argue that any of these species is inherently more valuable than another. However being a New Zealander, and a freediver with a natural admiration of dolphins, I've been trying to make a difference for the Maui's and Hector's Dolphins, the world's smallest and most endangered dolphin species.
To be honest, if you were to choose a species to try and save then this has to be the easiest pick, for a variety of reasons:
1. Appealing nature
They are cutely sized, beautifully marked and intelligent creatures, and they are mammals like us. It's a species that we feel a natural affinity towards, and therefore naturally want to protect.

We're 'green', right?
They live in a country that depends heavily on a reputation of being 'green' and eco-friendly. An extinction of such a species would do to that reputation and the tourism industry built on it what Moby Dick did to the Pequod.

3. We can afford it
New Zealand isn't a third-world country, and so protective policies should be easy to enforce (compare to African nations where poverty compels poachers to hunt species to their extinction).

4. Decades of research
There has been more peer-reviewed research on the Maui's and Hector's range, habits, lifespan and population decline than almost any other species of dolphin. This has been conducted over a period of 20 years, so there is no need to wait for further research or appraisal.

5. Easily fixable
There is only one major threat factor to their population: by-catch from net fishing. Unlike some of the pressures that threaten other species, this one is very easy to isolate and eliminate (compare to the Polar Bear whose salvation may depend on the reversal of global warming).

6. The Law says "We can!"
There is legislature in place within New Zealand's constitution that allows for immediate protection through the use of emergency powers afforded to the Minster of Conservation.

And yet, and yet … Despite all this, despite tens of thousands of petition signatures, individually written letters to the ministers and prime minister, despite the schoolchildrens' handwritten poems and carefully-coloured dolphin pictures, despite dozens of damning international press articles, all efforts and results for which I am sure the readers of this blog have played a large part… despite all this, Hector's and Maui's dolphins are no more protected than they were five months ago.

New Zealand's government is contemptuously playing a waiting game. They are waiting for the outcry over a spate of net-scarred dolphin carcasses that washed up on the beaches last summer to die down. They are waiting for the furor over the latest Maui's population estimate - lower than anyone possibly feared - to subside. They are an entropic government, waiting for entropy to have its way.

And meanwhile, while they waver and defer, while they shelve and consult, in the winter seas of New Zealand's west coast a population of now less than 55 animals, who represent the entirety of their species, swims every day in a territory that overlaps with the unscrupulous set nets and trawlers that have brought their number to the verge of annihilation.

I know I'm not alone in saying that I will not wait or be content until they are protected and their numbers begin to increase. In the second half of this year, several documentaries and features including one with CBS's 60 Minutes, the most viewed and respected television journalism program worldwide, will air, telling parts of my story and showing the world the dark side of NZ's shameful treatment of these dolphins. By exposing the truth and threatening the multi-billion dollar business of tourism and fisheries, perhaps we can finally convince the NZ lawmakers into making the right decision.

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