New Zealanders spending the summer on our coasts are asked to keep an eye out for the endangered Māui's dolphin, and report any sightings to the Department of Conservation on 0800 DOC HOT.
The dolphins live off the North Island's west coast, ranging from the Whanganui River mouth in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, right up to Dargaville in Northland, meaning they may be visible to people in these areas and those in between this summer.
Conservationists are imploring the public to help determine the current distribution of the species, whilst possibly enabling DOC to collect a DNA sample. A method called DNA fingerprinting will then be used to distinguish individuals and where they have moved from and to, if they have been sighted before. DOC has built up a database of all Māui's dolphin sightings since 1970.
The dolphins are usually found in pods of several animals closer to the shore in the summer. They have been known to frequent waters shallower than 20 metres around river mouths, estuaries, and in harbours and shallow bays.
If a member of the public wants to distinguish the Māui's dolphin from other types of dolphin, Forest & Bird says the best way is to look for its "Mickey Mouse-type" rounded dorsal fin. Their bodies are coloured with a combination of grey, white and black markings, and they have a short snout.
Any sightings the public report to DOC will be retained on its database, and be used to help protect the dolphins from fishing operations involving set nets and trawling. The Māui's dolphin will often die if it comes into contact with these, so it is imperative that DOC has this information of sightings.
Those who sight a dolphin are asked to take photos or videos (geotagged if using a smartphone), noting down and photographing any landmarks, reporting the number of dolphins, and recording the date and time.
When possible, the public are asked to remain in the vicinity of the dolphin, but being careful not to chase or harass them, keeping speed to a minimum and avoiding sudden changes of direction. DOC staff may then attempt to make radio or phone contact, and take a DNA sample when they arrive.
Call 0800 DOC HOT if you spot Māui's dolphin this summer. If you have a smartphone, you can also download the WWF NZ mobile app to report the sighting.