The Hectors/New Zealand Dolphin is only found in New Zealand.
They are the smallest and rarest ocean going dolphin in the world and very different from Kaikoura dolphins.
This makes them very special and a privilege for us to be able to go out and see them let alone swim with them.
How Small ?
The Hectors/New Zealand Dolphin only grows to a maximum size of 1.2 to 1.4 meters in length weighing no more than 50 kilograms.
Whats in a name?
They are named after Sir James Hector who examined the first scientific specimen. Sir James Hector was the first director of the first Colonial Museum in New Zealand (now known as Te Papa) and was without a doubt the most influential scientist in New Zealand when he retired in 1903.
Because Hectors Dolphins are only found in New Zealand they are also becoming known as the New Zealand Dolphin with the hope that this will lift their international profile alongside the likes of our iconic Kiwi.
With an enhanced profile worldwide it is hoped that more pressure will be put on our government to give them even more protection than they get now.
There is an estimated population of 7270. A far cry from the estimated 30,000 we had about 40 years ago and a very steep decline over a very short period of time.
In the Marine Mammal Sanctuary around Banks Peninsula where we operate it is estimated there are 900 to 1000 making it the hotspot for Hectors Dolphins.
Here I should mention that the sanctuary is 1100 square kilometers and we will not be traveling that far or seeing 900 dolphins. The most common pod (group) size is 5 to 6 that we would swim with and normally we would see a few pods.
Why The Decline?
The Hectors/New Zealand Dolphin are a small inshore dolphin who are usually within 12 nautical miles (22kmʼs) of shore and no more than 20 nautical miles (37kmʼs) this puts them in an area where human activities are most intensive. IE Fishing. With the invention of nylon fishing line in the 1970,s and then fishing nets being made from this nylon line, this has been the primary cause of their sharp decline.This type of fishing net is undetectable by the dolphins sonar and is invisible to their eyesight.
Also they are unable to swim backwards so if they swim into one of these nets and get entangled they will drown in 4 minutes (their maximum breath hold). A big part of their problem as well is their very low reproduction rate. The females come into their reproductive maturity between the ages of 7 to 9 years old. They are pregnant for a 12 month period and only have 1 baby (calf) at a time. This baby (calf) will stay with itʼs mother for 24 months before it can go off on itʼs own and survive without her.
During this 3 year period she does not become pregnant again as she dedicates all of her energy to this 1 baby. In fact she may not fall pregnant in the year after, taking it off to rejuvenate and recoup her energy. What this gives us is a birth rate of 1 baby born every 3 to 4 years from the earliest age of 7 to a maximum age of 23 years old. Yes that is usually as old as they get. Only 1% make it to the ripe old age of 25. So giving only 3 to 4 babies born in a mother Hectors Dolphins lifetime.
Compared to other mammals this is very low and they are still loosing the battle to survive. The population growth is only 2% per year while we are loosing them at 4% per year. In fact the scientists say at these rates they will become extinct within 25 years if more isnʼt done to save them. In the North Island of New Zealand there is a subspecies of the Hectors Dolphin called the Maui Dolphins their number is estimated at 55 only making them critically endangered.
Whats being done? (Not Enough!)
Gill Nets and Set Nets have been banned in some areas of New Zealand. A Marine Mammal Sanctuary out to 4 nautical miles (7.4 kmʼs) was set up around Banks Peninsula in 1988 covering 1100 square kilometers. This is where we operate. The sanctuary only covers a 5th of their territory here and really needs to go out to 20 nautical miles (37kmʼs) for maximum protection. Within this sanctuary there is no net fishing allowed and our population base is remaining static, meaning not in decline.
What you can do to help?
Actually it might sound like a sales pitch but a good place to start helping if you are interested in seeing or swimming with the worlds rarest ocean going dolphin is to come on a tour with us.
You should swim with dolphins in Akaroa – Here is why!
Well as a Department of Conservation Permit Holder for every person who joins us on a tour we pay part of your fare to The Department of Conservation. This goes into Hectors/New Zealand Dolphin research and education.
We are 1 of only 2 operators in the world who are licensed to swim with the Hectors/New Zealand Dolphin! Another great thing to do is talk to friends and family about your experience and what you learn about the dolphins on your tour.
This helps spread the word about how rare they are and lifts their profile. Social media is a very powerful tool to spread the word about them and how much help they still need. Join Facebook groups and online petitions. Get others in your network to do the same.