DOC administers a sightings database for Māui dolphin.

Māui dolphin sightings database

DOC administers a sightings database for Māui dolphin. It contains data predominantly from 1970 to the present, but also includes one sighting from 1922. This information comes from a number of different sources, including public sightings, through:

This is a ‘living’ database and is updated as sightings are received and as sightings undergo a parallel validation process. Data may also be updated as data cleaning occurs and historic files are discovered.

The online spreadsheet is updated on a roughly quarterly basis at the start of February, May, August, and November each year: 

Māui and Hector's dolphin sightings database spreadsheet October 2020 (XLS, 1,752K) 

Update October 2020: Downloads of previous versions of this data may have included some errors in the 'Region' field. The location descriptions and lat, long coordinates were correct. These errors have now been amended.

Note: As there can be multiple DNA samples from multiple animals for a single observation event, DNA information has been provided in a separate tab. All the samples from a single observation have been highlighted together. Use the Observation ID to relate them back to the observation data.

Māui dolphin sighting maps

Note: The data displayed in the maps has changed over time.

Map of Māui dolphin sightings from 2008 to June 2019
Sightings from the past 10 years showing validation categories 1-5, pending validation and not validated.
View the map (PDF, 3,697K)

Map of Māui dolphin sightings from May 2013 to June 2019
Sightings from the past five years showing validation categories 1-5, pending validation and not validated.
View the map (PDF, 3,591K)

Māui dolphin sighting validation process

DOC and WWF contract an external scientist, independent to both agencies, to verify Māui and Hector's dolphin sightings reported to DOC and WWF in areas where we are still learning how the dolphins use the habitat. We endeavour to validate all sightings of Hector's and Maui dolphins in the following areas:

North Island

  • the west coast north of Kaipara harbour and south of Awakino River (down to Wellington)
  • inside any harbour past the entrances
  • offshore 7nm
  • entire south and east coast

South Island

  • top of the South (excluding Queen Charlotte Sound and Golden Bay)
  • the south-east corner from St Kilda, Dunedin, to Purseyger Point in Southland (excluding Te Wae Wae Bay).

Map of areas to report sightings (PDF, 2,458K)

Sightings in unexpected locations, such as the east coast of the North Island, will be validated as soon as possible. 

The validator follows a validation system and interview process (PDF, 23K), including the 5 point scale, developed by Du Fresne (2010, PDF, 2,510K).

  • Validation categories 1–3 are the most reliable..
  • "Pending validation" means we are awaiting results from the validator.
  • "Not validated" represents sightings from before the validation system or were otherwise not validated for some reason.

The 5 point scale

Sighting reports are placed into a category if they fit at least one of the criteria. 

Category 1:

  • Report from a source of known reliability; or
  • High quality photo with landmark; or
  • High quality photo with no landmark but detailed description of location; or
  • Report from someone who has previously provided category 1 or 2 reports.

Category 2:

  • Description provided that is consistent with Māui or Hector's dolphin, detailed location description and/or GPS position.

Category 3:

  • Description provided that is consistent with Māui or Hector's dolphin, but the location is outside the known current range for the species.

Category 4:

  • Description is inconsistent with Māui or Hector's dolphin.

Category 5:

  • The report is a sighting of a Hector's dolphin in the South Island from before the locations of interest changed; or
  • The report is incomplete. The interview does not enable the report to be scored in any of the previous categories; or
  • The interview was not able to be conducted; or
  • The report is another dolphin species.

Key points of interest

  • Most sightings range from Dargaville to the New Plymouth area with some outlying sightings down the coast to Wellington, particularly along the Kapiti Coast.
  • There are sightings within the Manukau Harbour which are clustered around the outer region of the harbour, particuarly south at Hamilton and Cochrane's gaps.
  • There are also confirmed sightings within Wellington Harbour and Palliser Bay, but at least one of these was found to be a South Island Hector’s dolphin.
  • Māui or Hector's dolphins are also sometimes seen on the east coast of the North Island as far north as the Coromandel peninsula but we don't know which subspecies these dolphins are.



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