New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday her government is supporting a new project using drones designed to monitor and protect the Maui dolphin, one of the world’s rarest marine mammals.
Maui dolphins are found only in a small stretch of ocean off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and current estimates suggest there are only 63 adult members of the species left.
The new Māui Drone Project is a one-year collaboration between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), nonprofit wildlife technology organization MAUI63 and the World Wildlife Fund-New Zealand.
The project is designed to use the small, unmanned vehicles to find and track Maui dolphins, fly over them without disturbing them, and collect data on their habitat, population size and other behaviors.
Ardern told reporters the drones will allow government agencies and others to focus conservation efforts where they are needed most to protect the animals.
“We have drawn basically geographical areas where we have restricted certain types of fishing, but this will help us understand where they are, their movements, where the extra protections are required,” she said.
Maui dolphins are the smallest of the world’s dolphin species, measuring less than two meters long, and weighing up to 50 kilograms. Unlike other dolphins, they have distinctive round dorsal fins, and short snouts. They breed slowly, adding only one individual dolphin per year, and have relatively short lifespans, facts which may have contributed to their decline.
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