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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.


  • 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.
“Until late 2020, the area of Māui habitat protected from trawlers was just two nautical miles offshore. The NZ government has since extended it to four nautical miles. Māui along with its cousin Pahu (Hector’s) have been scientifically confirmed to swim out to 100m depth, so although the protection area for Māui has indeed increased, it’s still only about 10% of their habitat for trawling and 30% for gillnets". See this article
  • Pollution such as plastic debris, litter, metal toxins, oil spills, pathogens and organochlorines are increasingly harming the Māui dolphin population.

  • 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.

  • Changing weather patterns may also put the Māui population at risk. 

What Needs To Be Done

  • Māui protected areas need to be extended immediately and both net fishing and trawl fishing needs to be banned from the entire Māui habitat.

  • Catch limits for commercial and recreational fishing within the Māui habitat should be reduced to allow an overall increase of bio-abundance

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

  • Reduction of toxins, disease and plastic debris from the Māui dolphin habitat 

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

  • Addressing 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 can help get behind saving our endemic dolphins by offering financial support and helping to raise awareness around their plight.

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

  • Support calls for Māui protected areas to be extended and for a ban on net fishing in the entire Māui habitat.

  • ]Act safely on the water around dolphins

  • Support practices to end feral cat populations and for a National Cat Act, which will mean all domestic cats are microchipped and registered

  • Vote for candidates in elections who support better environmental policies.

  • Include green spaces in your garden to filter rainwater and reduce runoff.

  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products
  • Reduce your use of plastic - it break downs and find its way into waterways.

We Need Your Support Today!

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