Facts about Maui's dolphin
Why so special?
Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) is the world’s smallest dolphin and is found only on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. It is New Zealand's rarest dolphin.
The dolphin is listed internationally as 'critically endangered', which means there is a high risk of it becoming extinct in the near future.
In 2012 a DOC-commissioned study estimated the Maui’s dolphin population to consist of 55 with a 95% confidence interval of between 48 to 69. The estimate is for individuals aged more than 1 year (i.e. this excludes calves of under a year).
This small population of dolphins is thought to have been isolated from their more-numerous relatives, South Island Hector's dolphin, for thousands of years.
Maui's dolphin used to be known as North Island Hector's dolphin. But research showed the North and South Island dolphins are separate sub-species that are physically and genetically distinct from each other.
About Maui's dolphin
Maui's dolphin are generally found close to shore in groups or pods of several dolphins. They are often seen in water less than 20 metres deep but may also range further offshore. Their characteristics include:
- Distinctive grey, white and black markings and a short snout. Maui’s and Hector's are the only dolphins with a well-rounded black dorsal fin.
- Females grow to 1.7 metres long and weigh up to 50 kg. Males are slightly smaller and lighter.
- The dolphins are known to live up to 20 years.
- Females are not sexually mature until seven to nine years of age. They produce just one calf every two to four years, making population increase a very slow process.
- Like other dolphins, Maui’s use echolocation to find their food. They send out high frequency ‘clicks’ that bounce off surrounding objects and fish, giving the dolphins a detailed picture of their surroundings. This sonar is not used all the time, which may be why the dolphins get caught in nets.
Hector’s and Maui's dolphins are known to Maori by other names, including Tutumairekurai, Aihe, Papakanua, Upokohue, Tukuperu, Tupoupou and Hopuhopu.