- Status: Endangered
- Known as: Hector’s Dolphin, White-headed dolphin, New Zealand Dolphin
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: 7,000 to 8,000.
Hector’s dolphin is one of the smallest cetaceans and New Zealand’s only endemic cetacean. This charming little dolphin is only 1.4 meters long at the most, with the males being slightly smaller than the females. At its heaviest, this dolphin does not weigh more than 50 kilograms.
Hector’s dolphins do not have the beak usually associated with dolphins in general but have a shorter face, making them look more ‘whale-like.
The back of this dolphin is light grey or white, with white extending down the front of the face. The throat and undersides are white, while black patches surround the eye region and extend to the rounded flippers. The round dorsal fin and the tail are also black.
Examination of one of the dolphins by Sir James Hector in the last part of the 19th Century resulted in the species being named after him. Hector’s dolphins eat fish and squid and will take whatever fish is available. They also hunt for crabs and flounder on the ocean bottom.
The dolphins hunt and live in shallow waters and tend to stay underwater for only about 90 seconds. The use of echolocation enables the dolphins to find their prey with relative ease.
Hector’s dolphins assemble in small groups of 2 to 10 animals and appear to communicate with one another by clicks, unlike the whistles usually used by most dolphins. These dolphins have a low reproductive rate, with a calf being born only once every 2 to 4 years.
The calves remain under their mother’s protection until they are nearly fully grown and live independently. Young dolphins are especially playful and will use seaweed as a toy or blow bubbles for amusement. All ages of these dolphins often swim and leap around boats.
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Hector’s dolphin is found only in the shallow waters around New Zealand’s South Island. A subspecies of Hector’s dolphin, Maui’s dolphin, is even more endangered, with only about 110 individuals left. This member of the family lives around North Island.
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The nets of commercial and casual fishers are the greatest threats to Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Set nets are often placed out to catch fish in a relatively small area and trap the dolphins that drown in them.
Gill-nets used by commercial fisheries pose even more danger and are directly responsible for the near extinction of Maui’s dolphins. The monofilament used to make the nets is so thin that the dolphins’ echolocation cannot detect it. Although a few dolphins can free themselves from the net, about 150 drown every year.
Tourists can also disturb the dolphins, and they are, of course, subject to the detrimental effects of pollution. Sharks also prey on Hector’s dolphins.
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NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund, are working to ban gill-nets in all parts of the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin ranges.
Gill-nets have been banned completely around North Island and are only allowed to be set 4 miles offshore around South Island. Sanctuaries for marine mammals have also been established around both islands.
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Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve Hector’s Dolphin? Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.
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