Māui and Hector's dolphins are the only dolphins that have rounded fins in New Zealand
If you are in the North Island and think you’ve seen a Māui or Hector’s dolphin, report it straight away to our emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). We are interested in all sightings of Māui or Hector's dolphins around the North Island, but especially south of Raglan and around the south and east coasts of the North Island.
If you have spotted a Māui or Hector’s dolphin in Taranaki, Wellington, Wairarapa, Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty, east coast Auckland, or Northland, our staff might contact you via phone or radio, and may attempt to collect a genetic sample on arrival. If you are unable to call, you can report the sighting online.
We need beachgoers and boaties to report sightings so we can better understand where these dolphins live. This will provide evidence to make the best decisions for Māui and Hector’s dolphin conservation.
If you need help identifying species, download the marine mammal sighting form (PDF, 416K) or (Word, 4,300K). You can use the images and descriptions to find out which species of dolphin you observed.
Record the details
Include as much information as possible with your sighting:
- the date, time and location (GPS coordinates if possible)
- the number of dolphins and estimated sizes
- the direction they were travelling
- take photographs or video if possible.
Why sightings are so important
Try to take a photo of the dolphins to help verify your sighting
We use public sightings to help determine the distribution of Māui and Hector's dolphins. Your sighting could help prevent a Māui dolphin from encountering a net and drowning, as public sightings have been used in the past to help inform where protected areas should be.
We keep a database of all Māui dolphin sightings from 1970 to present. This is available for download by the public.
Find out more about the database by visiting the Māui dolphin sightings page.
Include lots of information with your sighting
We have to make sure sightings are legitimate if they are used for scientific purposes or for making legislation.
The more information you can provide, the more reliable the sighting will be, and the more applications your sighting will have for conservation and science.
More detailed information on this validation process is provided on the Māui dolphin sightings page.
If your sighting is in Taranaki, Wellington, Wairarapa, Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty, east coast Auckland, or Northland our staff might attempt to find the dolphins and retrieve a genetic sample as dolphin densities in these areas are usually low or transient.
A genetic sample will be used to determine whether or not the dolphin is a Hector's or a Māui, as their habitat may overlap on the southern part of the North Island.
Scientists can use a method called DNA fingerprinting in order to distinguish individuals. This way, they may be able to tell if this dolphin has been sighted in the past, improving our knowledge of movement patterns.
If you spot a Hector's or Māui dolphin in the orange hatched regions, call the hotline immediately, a DOC ranger may try to collect a genetic sample.
Other ways you can help
How to approach dolphins
From a boat:
- carefully approach dolphins from their side and slightly to the rear.
- operate your boat slowly and quietly at ‘no wake’ speed within 300 m.
- don't approach a group of dolphins if three or more boats are already within 300 m of the group.
- manoeuvre your boat carefully. Do not obstruct their path, cut through a group, or separate mothers from calves.
From a boat or swimming:
- avoid loud or sudden noises that could startle dolphins.
- don't swim with dolphins when calves are present.
- don't try to touch the dolphins or feed them.
- co-operate with others so all may see the dolphins without putting them at risk.
Stranded, injured, entangled, or deceased dolphins
Call DOC's emergency hotline immediately 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) and follow any instructions from DOC staff. Prompt reporting increases the likelihood that we can save dolphins in distress and learn more about deceased dolphins, including conducting necropsies in some situations to identify the cause of death and to collect important scientific data that may help us manage threats to dolphins.
If you catch or harm a dolphin
It is not illegal to accidentally catch a dolphin, but you must report it.
If you accidentally catch, harm or kill a dolphin you must report it as soon as possible to our emergency hotline 0800 DOCHOT (0800 362 468) or the Ministry for Primary Industries (0800 008 333).
If a dolphin is alive you should release it back into the water as quickly and gently as possible, provided it is safe to do so.
If the dolphin is dead, take photos, and either release the carcass at sea or preferably bring it to shore for us to recover, particularly if you have caught a Hector's or Māui dolphin.
If you are set netting always remain with your net. Remove your net from the water if dolphins are seen in the area.
If you see set nets being used within areas closed for netting, contact the Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 4 POACHER (0800 4 76224).
Adult and juvenile Māui dolphins