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Māui Dolphin | Popoto

Māui are found only on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island and are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world, with a unique rounded dorsal fin. There are only about 63 Māui over the age of 1 year remaining and much is needed to save these endangered dolphins from extinction.


There are so few Māui dolphins left in the world, they were classified as Nationally Critical in 2009. 

Quick facts

  • They are found only on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island and are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world, with a unique rounded dorsal fin.

  • There are only about 63 Māui over the age of 1 year remaining.

  • They have a shorter lifespan than other dolphins, only living till their mid-20s.

  • Females typically give birth to their first calves between five – nine years of age and only have one calf every two – four years.

  • They mainly communicate using clicks, which are so high-pitched humans can’t hear them.

  • Māui dolphins are closely related to Hector’s dolphins – while they look identical they are genetically different.

  • Māui dolphins are currently capable of increasing their population by around 2% each year but with the increase of natural and human factors that are impacting their birth and morality rates, they are highly at risk.


  • Māui dolphins are only found on the west coast of the North Island from Maunganui Bluff to Whanganui.

  • They can often be seen near Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato near shores and harbour mouths, generally staying in water that is less than 30m deep.

Map of Māui Dolphin.jpg

Both environmental and human factors are putting the Māui dolphin at significant risk.

Environmental Threats:

  • Brucella abortus is a pathogen caused by bacteria that can cause late pregnancy abortions. This was first identified in a Māui dolphin in 2006, and puts the already low population at risk.

  • Toxoplasmosis is another parasitic disease that spreads through ingestion of infected meat or the ingestion of contaminated material. The main source of infection for dolphins is most likely through freshwater run-off from the land contaminated with cat faeces. Toxoplasmosis can cause death, behavioural changes, still births and reduced reproductive rates.

  • Sharks such as great whites are the main predators for Māui dolphins and there have been several recorded incidents in which the sharks have been found with Māui dolphin remains in their stomachs.

  • Changing weather patterns may also put the Māui population at risk. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather patterns have been a possible reason for the separation of Hector dolphin calves from their mothers, resulting in the death of the calf. Similar effects may occur for the Māui dolphin.

Human Threats:

  • Accidental entanglement in nets has been the largest cause of human related Māui dolphin deaths. Because Māui dolphins live just off the coast, fishing is a significant threat to their survival. Māui dolphins generally feed on bottom-dwelling fish and free-swimming prey and are often seen foraging around fishing boats using trawl nets, hunting the fish that have been disturbed by the trawlers. This can also lead to an increased risk of boat strike for the dolphins.
  • Pollution such as plastic debris, litter, metal toxins, oil spills, pathogens and organochlorines are increasingly harming the Māui dolphin population.


What Needs To Be Done

  • Further research to better understand the impacts of pollution and diseases on Māui dolphins and how these impacts can be avoided.

  • Drawing attention to issues facing the Māui dolphin including destructive fishing practices and seabed mining, and advocating for better alternatives.

  • Fundraising to support better monitoring and research of the Māui dolphin.

  • Highlighting the major issues threatening the health of our oceans including climate change.

How can you help?

We are fundraising to help support the highest-priority conservation efforts for the critically endangered Maui dolphin. You or your business can help get behind saving our endemic dolphins by offering financial support and helping to raise awareness around their plight.

We Need Your Support Today!


Other ways you can make a difference

  • Report Māui dolphin sightings - 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) or report via this form

  • Use set nets safely.

  • Dispose of cat faeces in the bin not the toilet.

  • Support practices to end feral cat populations.

  • Act safely on the water around dolphins

  • Vote for candidates in elections who support better environmental policies. Include green spaces in your garden to filter rainwater and reduce runoff.

  • Avoid buying plastics as they break down and find their ways into waterways.

  • Share this information with your family and friends 

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