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South Island Hector’s Dolphin and Maui Dolphin Listed Under the Endangered Species Act
“We are heartened to see these rare dolphins receive the legal protections they deserve,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Our oceans are in trouble, and ocean species like the dolphins need strong legal protections against threats including fishing and pollution.”
The South Island Hector’s dolphin and Maui dolphin — two subspecies of Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchushectori) — are endemic to New Zealand; the species as a whole has the second most limited range of any cetacean. Rare Hector’s dolphins are found in shallow coastal waters, almost always within eight miles of shore and at depths of fewer than 300 feet. Accidental entanglement in fishing nets and gear is the most serious threat to the dolphins. Boat strikes, disease and pollution may also contribute to extinction risk.
WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition to list 81 marine species and subpopulations —including the dolphins — under the ESA in July of 2013 due to significant threats to our oceans. More than half of all marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation, the U.S. largely fails to protect marine species under the ESA. Of the over 2,000 species protected under the Act, only about six percent are marine species.
Recognizing the decline of ocean health, on July 22, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order requiring agencies, including the Fisheries Service, to “protect, maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean…ecosystems,” and to “use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean.” The listing of the dolphins is a step in the right direction toward living up to that mandate.
Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals protected by the law exist today. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006 if not for ESA protections. Listing species with global distributions can protect them from trade and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulations and recovery of the species.