I don’t know who needs to hear this, but SailGP is just a boat race. Yes it is exciting as the foils slice through the water at up to 100km/h, but is it really worth killing endangered dolphins for a boat race? 

Hector's dolphins are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world. They have distinct black facial markings, short stocky bodies and a dorsal fin shaped like a Mickey Mouse ear.
Hector’s dolphins are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world. They have distinct black facial markings, short stocky bodies and a dorsal fin shaped like a Mickey Mouse ear.

I don’t think so. And I reckon most New Zealanders’ values would align with that.

But then there is the other Russell, Russell Coutts, CEO of SailGP.

Previously SailGP agreed with the approach of prioritising dolphins’ safety ahead of boat races, but now comments by Coutts suggest they have changed their mind.

What happened?

SailGP decided they wanted to have their race in Lyttelton Harbour, where there is a marine mammal sanctuary because endangered Upokohue/Hector’s dolphins live there. 

Upokohue/Hector’s is one of the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world and is classified by scientists as “Threatened – Nationally Vulnerable”, which means they face a high risk of extinction in the medium term. They are only found in New Zealand. These are all good reasons to protect them.

SailGP was told about the problems of holding the race in a marine mammal sanctuary. This was especially problematic because of the very high speed of the boats and the presence of mothers with calves. SailGP persisted and a series of rules were agreed (the Marine Mammal Protection Plan) that would allow the race but protect the dolphins. The most important rule was that racing must stop if dolphins were sighted in or near the racing area.

Only a fortnight ago Andrew Thompson, SailGP Managing Director said about the Marine Mammal Protection Plan: “It’s an industry-leading example of SailGP’s commitment to the environments in which we operate.”

As the Department of Conservation have stated: ‘This decision to hold the event there was made in the full knowledge that protection of the dolphins from the impact of boats will be paramount.’’

Personally, I don’t agree with having the race there at all. It is a marine sanctuary, for god’s sake, but if it is going ahead, it is good that the protection plan was agreed upon. 

But then on Saturday the dolphins turned up, the agreed rules were activated and the racing was paused. Which was what SailGP agreed because of their ‘commitment to the environments in which we operate’.

But then Coutts lost his shit and in a Trumpian outburst attacked all and sundry- DoC, the harbourmaster, the hapū, the scientists, the laws etc etc. His attack on rules to protect dolphins echoed this government’s war on nature with its oil and gas exploration and fast-track laws for environmentally destructive projects. 

So much for all the greenwash that SailGP cares about the environment! And as for Coutts’ gratuitous attack on Ngāti Wheke, thank goodness that they stood up for the dolphins because it is clear that SailGP couldn’t care less. 

When it comes to not really giving a damn about dolphins, I used to think that no one would best George Clement, the then head of Seafood New Zealand, when he blamed the dolphins for drowning themselves in fishing nets. But Russell Coutts sure has given it a crack.

ECan Protect Hector’s Dolphins through your Regional Plan

We call on ECan to protect Hector’s from fishing related impacts, through the Council’s Regional Plan.

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This article was first published in the NZ Herald.