Featured Image Credit: Avenue via Wikipedia
By Emily Persico
Māui dolphins are the world’s rarest and tiniest dolphin. There are just 55 of them left to wander the waters of New Zealand in search of food and shelter. With a reproduction rate of just 2 percent, these dolphins are able to add just one individual to their population each year, a rate which is just two slow to keep up with human-caused deaths.
Before humans can kill the rest of them off, marine ecologists Dr. Kim Goetz and Dr. Krista Hupman of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) have decided to take a step back and listen to the dolphins.
In their year-long study, nine moorings will be deployed, each with two acoustic devices to record the high frequency “clicks” of māui dolphin conversations during navigations and hunts.
“We’ve been trying to increase our ‘eyes’ on the water by encouraging public sightings of the dolphins, but these acoustic moorings will increase our ‘ears’ underwater and be there listening when we can’t be watching,” says Lauren Boren of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.
Māui dolphins are critically endangered, and their biggest threat is fishing nets, in which they get trapped and drowned at an estimated rate of five dolphins per year. If this continues, māui dolphins will not survive.
While groups like WWF fight for stricter fishing laws, Dr. Kim Goetz and her peers hope to save the dolphins by listening closer to the dolphin’s pleas.
“They are an endangered animal,” she says, “so anything we can contribute to increasing our knowledge can be useful.”