by Gareth Hughes
Imagine if a Japanese whaling fleet every year came down to New Zealand and hunted and killed two critically endangered whales in the Hauraki Gulf, just off Auckland? Imagine the outcry, the protests and activists racing around on small boats to stop it.
Imagine the surprise then that this occurs every year on average for the nationally critically endangered Bryde’s whale but from a more prosaic but easily avoidable source, but there’s hardly any media attention on it at all.
The Bryde’s whale is listed as nationally critically threatened by the Department of Conservation and it is estimated there are 46 resident and 159 transient Bryde’s whales in the Hauraki Gulf, making up the bulk of the population.
This whale is threatened simply by large ships travelling too fast and striking and killing the whales in the Hauraki Gulf. Between 1996 and 2012, 42 Bryde’s whale mortalities were recorded, 19 of which are known or suspected to have been caused by vessel strike. Scientists have pointed out the chance of surviving is greatly increased if ships slow down to 10 knots. Speed is needlessly killing them and pushing them closer to local extinction.
For a country that loves whales and has spoken out loudly in global forums for the end of commercial whaling it is tragic that the Bryde’s whale, a species on the cusp of local extinction, is dying needlessly right on our largest city’s doorstep.
While I acknowledge and welcome the Hauraki Gulf Forums attempt to reduce ship speeds I am concerned by how long the process is taking and the considerable threat this species is under. The time for talk is over and the time for action is now.
I’ve just written to the Minister of Conservation requesting that he use his considerable powers under the Marine Mammals protection Act (1978) to protect these whales. Nick Smith could use either Section 22 to declare a marine sanctuary with ship speed controls or use Section 28 to make regulations that address ship speeds and the chances of strike. He could do this tomorrow.
Imagine if we had a Government that used the powers it has right now to protect our amazing marine mammals?