NZ Gov't Accused of Endangering Maui Dolphins Due to Oil Exploration Plans in Sanctuary

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Dolphins are seen at a cove in Taiji, western Japan, January 21, 2014.
Dolphins are seen at a cove in Taiji, western Japan, January 21, 2014. REUTERS/Adrian Mylne REUTERS/Adrian Mylne

The New Zealand Greens has accused the government of further endangering the rare Maui "hobbit" dolphin by opening its habitat to oil exploration and drilling. According to reports, the Greens has obtained documents under the Official Information Act containing details of the New Zealand government's plan to include more than 3,000 square kilometres of the country's West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

The documents reportedly said the Maui dolphin sanctuary was added in the competitive tender for petroleum exploration permits identified as the Block Offer 2014. The marine mammal sanctuary was created in 2008 to protect the Hector and Maui dolphins from threats.

Greens party co-leader Russel Norman said the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has been calling for greater protection of the dwindling population of Maui dolphins, but the government is putting them at "greater risk of extinction."

Previously, the commission has released a report about the poor management of plans to reverse the Maui dolphin's decline. The Maui dolphin, also called the "hobbit" dolphin, is regarded as the most endangered dolphin in the world. The endangered marine animals can only be found in New Zealand. Named after a Polynesian demigod, the dolphin has a maximum length of up to 1.7 metres. 

Reports said the New Zealand government was accused of being "hypocritical" for denouncing Japan's scientific whaling program while it continues to ignore the recommendations of the IWC.

Norman said the New Zealand government is "driving them to extinction." He challenged the government to stop putting the "short-term interest" of only a few mining companies ahead of the Kiwis' interest to protect the endangered species.

The Greens said scientists have warned against seismic surveys as part of oil exploration since they can damage the hearing of dolphins and may drive them away to unprotected areas. When Maui dolphins stay outside the sanctuary, they are at risk of getting caught in fishing nets. Scientists said there are about 50 Maui dolphins left in North Island's shallow waters. Based on estimates, about three to four dolphins are killed by accident via fishing annually.

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