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World's Smallest Dolphin on Verge of Extinction

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Today in “depressing animal extinction news”, we highlight the plight of the Maui’s dolphin – the world’s rarest and smallest known subspecies of dolphin.

Found only off the west coast of the central and upper North Island of New Zealand, these five-and-a-half-foot long dolphins are thought to have numbers of less than 55. The main culprit, if you haven’t deduced already, is fishing nets; in particular gillnets – vertical panels of netting that are amazingly effective in snagging anything that tragically swims their way.

“To have just 55 of these wonderful creatures left is beyond even our worst estimates,” Zoologist Dr Barbara Maas told the Daily Mail. “Their extinction is really imminent now, within a few years. New Zealand is a civilised country, which markets itself as an unspoilt paradise. They must act before it is too late.”

Further complicating matters is the fact that Maui’s dolphins have a slow sexual maturity (7-9 years of age) and only reproduce thereafter every 2-4 years. Before commercial fishing took off in the 1970s, estimates of their population were somewhere above 1,000.

Based on this new report, New Zealand officials are working on legislation that, if passed, would extend current net bands to include the habitat of the Maui’s dolphin and equally-threatened Hector’s dolphin.

“It is important that we act now, which is why the Government has proposed the interim measures and has brought forward the review of the plan,” Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said in a statement.

Want to help? Consider donating either time, cash, or support to the World Wildlife Fund’s “Stop Their Extinction” campaign for the dolphins. Check out a video on the campaign below.

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