Two Hector’s dolphins have been spotted in the Firth of Thames, prompting the Department of Conservation (DOC) to call on the public to report sightings of the animals.
DOC Marine Species Technical Advisor, Kristina Hillock says the two dolphins were spotted by a member of the public on Thursday 19 October, near Te Kouma’s Sugarloaf Wharf – a few kilometres south of Coromandel Town.
It’s just the third time in 60 years the species has been spotted in the Firth of Thames.
“We occasionally get reports of Hector’s dolphins on the east coast of the North Island, such as around Hawke’s Bay and the eastern side of Coromandel Peninsula – but their usual habitat is around the South Island,” said Ms Hillock.
“That makes the sighting of this pair particularly important to us: If we can relocate the dolphins, we’ll try to get a small skin sample from them for scientific purposes.”
The skin sample would provide genetic information that would help determine which subspecies the animals came from, she said.
Anyone who sees the Hector’s dolphin can report it directly to 0800 DOC HOT.
“If you do spot the dolphins please maintain a respectful distance, but do record the date, time, GPS coordinates (if available), the time spent near the dolphins, the direction the animals are moving, and descriptions of the location and activity of the dolphins.”
Videos and photos of the animals are also beneficial for DOC’s marine scientists, as imagery or footage helps confirm the species and any identifying marks on individual animals, said Ms Hillock.
Hector’s dolphins are grey and white with black markings and are recognisable through their distinctive rounded dorsal fin, shaped like Mickey Mouse’s ear.
Hector’s dolphins are classified as ‘nationally vulnerable’, with an estimated population of 15,700 individuals.
Māui dolphins are classified as ‘nationally critical’ with an estimated 54 animals aged one year or more within the survey area on the west coast of the North Island.
Although it’s possible the dolphins spotted in the Firth of Thames are from the Māui subspecies, it is considered unlikely, said Ms Hillock.