Creating a Citizen Science App to Identify NZ Hector’s dolphin habitat

Mike Bossley
Published: 31 May 2016
Last edited: 25 August 2016
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This project aims to prevent continued decline of the endangered Hector’s dolphins. Dolphins are getting caught as bycatch in trawl and set nets. People want to help dolphins but don't know how. Citizen scientists are being trained, to extend the number and location of sightings around New Zealand, as well as identify when strandings occur. At the same time, these citizen scientists become protectors of the dolphins, intimately involved in their survival.


Other ecosystem
Coastal waters up to 100m deep
Protected area management planning
Science and research
Scale of implementation
Aichi targets


New Zealand


Establishing a knowledge base, empowering local people, getting protected habitat New Zealanders have shown they support Hector's dolphin protection in theory yet much more can be done. At present dolphins are getting caught as bycatch in trawl and set nets with numbers declining from 30,000 a few decades ago to 7200 today while the Maui subspecies has <100. Hector's dolphin researchers can't cover the entire coast of New Zealand. People want to help dolphins but don't know how.


Endemic endangered Hector’s dolphins; local people of New Zealand; MPA managers; researchers.

How do the building blocks interact?

The first building block showed that New Zealand people were largely in favour of a conservation solution. Both greater involvement and data were needed. The app is building that involvement, and we hope that it will spread more widely around New Zealand. The pressure on politicians for a conservation solution has not begun and won’t be complete until the 2017 elections. This may not immediately result in more protected area, free from nets, but it will help to provide data to evaluate the evolving situation, and it will build a constituency who know and care about these dolphins and are interested in their future.


With the newly developed sighting app for Hector’s dolphin, citizen scientists can now contribute to the effort to report sightings and identify the habitat of this endangered endemic species. More people are becoming involved in the push to protect their habitat.


In 2014, Whale and Dolphin Conservation found through an independent survey of 1,000 New Zealand residents that they placed a high value on their endemic, endangered Hector’s dolphins and would be willing to forego cheap fish and chips to help save them. Most New Zealanders were willing to support habitat protection and removal of the set nets and trawls that kill the dolphins in bycatch. While overall Hector’s dolphins number 7,200, among the four populations one called Maui’s dolphin is reduced to fewer than 100 individuals. The decision was made to develop an app as a means of involving New Zealanders as well as gathering crucial data to support much wider protection in coastal waters. In the limited areas with marine protected areas where nets are banned, dolphin survival rate has improved. But more protection is need in the waters up to 100m deep around much of New Zealand.

Contributed by

Erich Hoyt

IUCN Joint WCPA/SSC Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force


IUCN Joint WCPA/SSC Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force