Ecologist Special Report: World's rarest dolphin heading towards extinction

Even as government-funded scientists detail its decline and opposition Labour and Greens call for net bans - which opinion polls show most Kiwis support - the ruling National Party, headed by a fishing magnate, denies there is any problem. CHRISTOPHER PALA reports ...

The scientists had no idea that 30 years later, fishermen's nets would have reduced New Zealand's Maui dolphin to some 60 individuals - down from 2,000 or so in the 1970s, making it the world's rarest dolphin

When Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson graduated from university in New Zealand in 1982, they became interested in the country's diminutive endemic dolphins, about which only six scientific papers had been written. A summation of all that was known about them was all of four pages long.

The New Zealand coastal dolphins, which have relatives in Chile, Argentina and South Africa, are the world's smallest. They are friendly to people, fight rarely and have sex often. One sub-species, which hadn't bred with the others for 16,000 years, according to a mitochondrial DNA analysis, is called the Maui's dolphin.