The government is being urged to ban fishing nets in local waters after the dire state of the Maui dolphin population was highlighted at the annual International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama City on Friday.
Government representatives from several countries in attendance urged New Zealand, and Mexico where the vaquita porpoise faces extinction, to take all possible measures immediately to save the animals from extinction.
Austria's delegate to the IWC, Michael Stachowitsch says: "It's time for diplomatic niceties and step-wise strategies to take a back seat to immediate, concrete action with no compromise."
According to the IWC's scientific report fewer than 200 Vaquita and only 55 Maui's
dolphins over a year old remain.
The report states both animals are severely threatened by accidental bycatch in gillnet fisheries and no less than a total ban on the use of gillnets in the entire ranges of both populations is needed to secure their survival.
WWF's marine turtle and cetacean manager Aimee Leslie agrees a complete ban on gillnets and trawl nets is urgently needed throughout the whole habitat of Maui's dolphin, found only in the shallow waters surrounding the North Island of New Zealand.
She says protection measures announced by the government last week are not enough to save the animals from extinction but there are means for fishing to continue while allowing the dolphins to exist safely.
"This fishing could drive the dolphins to extinction. Advances in technology mean that fishermen and Maui's dolphins can safely share New Zealand's waters. We urge the use of alternative fishing gear that is dolphin-friendly and to keep all gillnets and trawl nets out of Maui's habitat."
Incidental capture in fishing operations is the biggest threat to cetacean species today.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die each year from entanglement in many types of fishing gear - an average of one cetacean killed by bycatch every two minutes.
The only known loss of a mammal species from human causes was the Chinese
baiji, or Yangtze River dolphin, declared functionally extinct 2006. Scientists
say unless immediate action is taken the vaquita population will soon succumb
to the same fate.