NEW ZEALAND FLOATS PLAN TO SAVE ENDANGERED DOLPHINS WITH AI AND DRONES
On February 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the New Zealand government would be collaborating with conservation groups—the World Wild Life Fund and MAUI63—and major fishing companies—Moana New Zealand and Sanford Limited—on a new initiative to protect the critically endangered Maui dolphin. The project will utilize unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with artificial intelligence software, to gather information on the species and contribute to efforts to create innovative new wildlife protection policies (Reuters and New Zealand Herald).
Maui dolphins, a subspecies of the endangered Hector’s dolphin, are some of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins (Independent). Scientists estimate there are fewer than 63 Maui dolphins over the age of one year remaining in the wild. The critically endangered species lives exclusively in a small area of ocean just off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island (Reuters). Experts blame the severe decline in their population predominantly on fishing practices, like deep sea trawling, and impacts from noise pollution (Independent and New York Times).
Ardern’s new initiative will seek to remedy these issues by helping scientists close current gaps in their understanding of Maui dolphin behavior. The drones will locate and follow Maui dolphins from a safe distance, tracking their population size, distribution, and behavioral patterns and reporting this information back to a publicly available database (New Zealand Herald). The government has already moved to restrict fishing in the areas with known Maui populations, but hope the information revealed in this new project will help them better target their efforts moving forward (Reuters).