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Published: 2007-12-20 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is giving $33,000 to the Waikato Royal Forest and Bird Society to help save the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin.

Maui’s dolphins are considered the world’s rarest marine dolphins and are found only around the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

It is estimated there are only 110 left and of these the population may include only 60 mature animals and only 25 breeding females.

Research in 2005 showed the highest densities are between Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato. However, efforts to save the dolphin are complicated by a lack of data and little or no monitoring has been done in Raglan, Kawhia and Aotea harbours.

Environment Waikato’s grant will help to fund research into whether or not the dolphins visit these areas.

Acoustic pods will be placed around the harbours to record dolphin activity by researchers based at Otago University in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DOC). The research will be peer reviewed to ensure that it accurately tests for the presence or absence of dolphins.

Information gathered during this research will help DOC and the Ministry of Fisheries develop appropriate management options for the dolphin.

It will also be useful in future when Environment Waikato makes resource management decisions for these areas.

Environment Waikato is responsible for protecting biodiversity in the Waikato region.

Cr Paula Southgate said that a Maui's dolphin had recently been found dead along the Raglan coast, highlighting the species' precarious position.

She said she was committed to supporting environmental initiatives and believed the organisation had to take responsibility for the kind of community projects supported by the Environmental Initiatives Fund.

"A nearly extinct dolphin is about as serious as it gets," she said.