Author(s): Kate Mulcahy
A very diverse range of marine mammals live in New Zealand waters, representing almost half of the world's species. Maui's and Hector's dolphins and New Zealand sea lions are found nowhere else in the world. There are small resident populations of orca and bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand, and a group of Bryde's whales living in the Hauraki Gulf. In Kaikoura, sperm whales come unusually close to land. Others, such as pilot whales, frequently strand on the country's beaches. Marine mammals strongly influenced New Zealand's early history and are the basis of a flourishing tourism industry today. Many New Zealanders have a special connection with these highly intelligent and social creatures. The Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 was promulgated over thirty years ago. But it has not succeeded in ensuring the health of New Zealand's marine mammal populations. Many species are suffering from significant stresses. The very survival of some, such as the Maui's dolphin, is now at stake. This publication investigates how New Zealand's current legislative framework has been applied in practice to address conflicts between human activity and marine mammals. It canvasses approaches to marine mammal protection in other countries and identifies current weaknesses in New Zealand's management framework. It then outlines measures that could be taken to enable the legislation to better ensure the 'full protection' of New Zealand's marine mammals. It should be read by all those who want to better understand the threats currently facing New Zealand's marine mammals and what can be done about them.