Commercial set netting and trawling in shallow waters is threatening Hector and Maui dolphins. Maui numbers have dropped as low as 100 on the North Island.

New Zealand’s Hector and Maui dolphins – the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world - are critically endangered.


In order to help protect the dolphins, zoologist Gemma McGrath founded Music 4 Maui’s in October 2007. The project fuses NZ music with marine conservation, and aims to both raise awareness of the dolphin’s plight, as well as raise funds to help them.

Gemma convinced a selection of talented kiwi musicians to donate songs for the dolphins, building up the Music 4 Maui’s album. The first compilation titled ’Songs to save a species’ was released on June 16th and includes artists such as Minuit, The Black Seeds, Sola Rosa and Ariana Tikao. Music reaches people and talks to their spirit, so these songs about the ocean and the dolphins, the fishing industry and extinction are good means to promote positive changes.

“The Music 4 Maui’s project is designed to raise national awareness, deepening our connection to these dolphins, in the hope to inspire effective political change and strengthen our nation’s conservation ethic. As the issue can be controversial in fishing circles, this project aspires to eliminate apathy and foster empathy fusing the power of music with the latest scientific facts, getting the message across to many”, said Gemma.

Over the last summer, Gemma embarked on a nationwide tour in the ‘dolphin van’, setting up dolphin awareness stalls at music festivals, where people filled out thousands of petition cards.

Government takes important step towards protection

The effort has not been in vain, as the New Zealand Government has recently taken a major step towards the protection of the dolphins by banning gillnets in some crucial areas near the coast.

“While this is a stride in the right direction, the dolphins are still not fully protected,” said Professor Liz Slooten, from NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust. “The new regulations do not meet national or international guidelines for marine mammal conservation and do little more than hold the population at its current seriously depleted level, 25% of original population size. We need their population to start growing again.” More scientific evidence is needed, as many dolphin population estimates are out of date. Aerial and boat based population surveys for Maui, Hector and Common dolphins need to be conducted all around New Zealand, to further prove the urgent need for protection. Some of the money raised by Music 4 Maui’s will go to the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust to conduct these much needed dolphin population surveys.

“Fishermen can always find alternatives, but extinction is forever. So we have to stand to protect these magical creatures for future generations”, said Gemma.

A winter tour in the dolphin van is coming up, and there are several more Music 4 Maui’s albums planned. Some artists are even working with sound samples from Hector’s dolphins. So stay tuned and help the cause while enjoying good kiwi music with meaning!