WELLINGTON, New Zealand, April 3 (UPI) -- Conservationists say they're stepping up pressure on New Zealand's government to protect two endangered dolphin species.
An international coalition of conservation campaigners signed a letter to Prime Minister John Key calling for immediate action to protect New Zealand's Hector's and Maui's dolphins, Xinhua reported Tuesday.
The Maui's dolphin, the world's smallest dolphin, is the most endangered of all whales and dolphins with just an estimated 55 animals surviving, said D.J. Schubert, chairman of Whales Need Us, a collection of U.S.-based organizations promoting cetacean protection.
"The plight of the Maui's dolphins is alarming and New Zealand must act now to eliminate the threats to these important populations," Schubert said in a statement.
Hector's and Maui's dolphins are primarily threatened by fatal encounters with trawl and gill nets, conservationists said, but other factors, including habitat degradation, are also dangers.
"It is imperative that the use of trawl and gill nets in the habitat of these dolphin populations be prohibited if these dolphins are to have any chance of survival," the Whales Need Us statement said.
New Zealand must maintain its reputation as a leader in cetacean conservation, biodiversity protection and sustainability, Barbara Maas of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation union, said.
"Now it is time for the government to reaffirm its commitment to its only endemic dolphin or risk its credibility," Maas said in the statement.