World's Smallest Dolphin Down to Just 55 Individuals


A member of the Maui's dolphin parent species - Hector's dolphin (Photo: James Shook/Wiki Commons)

The planet's smallest dolphin, which typically measures just a meter and a half in length, is now on the verge of extinction, with only 55 mature individuals alive in the world, according to a new survey on their population.

The child-sized Maui's dolphin, also endearingly called the "popoto", is a subspecies of the Hector's dolphin and can only be found along the west coast of New Zealand's North Island. Maui's_dolphin_range_map

The grave news comes just a couple of months after it was reported that an adult Maui's dolphin had died after getting caught in a fisherman's gillnet. Fishing nets are one of the leading causes of death for the species.

"Every day the animals are exposed to gill and trawl nets carries a risk we can't afford. If ever there was a time to act, it is now," said Dr. Barbara Maas, NABU International's Head of International Species Conservation.

The last time a survey had been performed on the species was in 2005, which counted 111 individuals. That means that the population has halved in just the last 6-7 years.

Of the 55 individuals counted in the latest survey, only 20 were believed to be female. Since females of the species only reproduce once every 2-4 years, the population is unlikely to rebound quickly, even if all of the animal's threats were immediately controlled. Coastal pollution, oil spills, plastic garbage (which the dolphins mistake for squid, a favorite prey item) and competition with fishermen for food are among the other reasons cited for the animal's rapid decline.

Losing this loveable, cute and chubby dolphin forever would be a travesty, especially considering its primary threats come from humans. If New Zealand doesn't act soon, it will become the first country in the world to have driven a marine dolphin species into extinction.

"We can’t change our past to bring back species like the moa that are lost forever, but we must not, and will not, give up on our critically endangered dolphins," said Rebecca Bird, WWF-New Zealand's Marine Program Manager. "We know that solutions exist to save Maui’s, it is time the government acted on behalf of all New Zealanders to protect this precious national treasure."

The New Zealand government is currently considering a ban on nets over a larger swath of the coastline by setting up a marine sanctuary to help harbor the fragile species.

View an informative and moving report on the Maui's dolphin presented by the WWF below:


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