Monday, January 11, 2010

Steps to save rare dolphins~Hector's Dolphin

Last summer, on a yacht sailing from Lyttelton to Akaroa, something magical happened to Aescleah Hawkins.She looked overboard, and there they were: dozens of Hector's dolphins, among the world's smallest and rarest marine mammals, racing the boat."I can't really explain it. I felt this amazing longing to want to help them, because they are endangered."I couldn't physically fathom the fact that over 30 years, basically, their entire population has been wiped out through human activity."So the 15-year-old from Huntsbury, Christchurch, has swapped boat shoes for hiking boots.In March she will walk 45km in an attempt to raise $30,000 towards World Wildlife Fund's Hector's dolphin conservation efforts."What is helping me is that I am not an official, I am not older. I'm from the new generation that needs to step up and do something," says Hawkins (whose first name is pronounced "Ashley").Three years ago, conservation groups estimated there were only 7270 Hector's dolphins in the wild, from a 1970s population of more than 26,000.Extinction, says Hawkins, should take "thousands and thousands of years" - not three decades. She will walk from Lyttelton to Akaroa on March 5-7, with 11 others, including her mum, friends, and Tourism Canterbury chairman and Black Cat cruises chief executive, Paul Bingham.The Avonside Girls' High student took part in a similar walk in London when she was nine years old, raising funds for the Bengal tiger."I wanted to do something for a New Zealand endangered species. In 100 years' time, or 1000 years' time, people should still be able to see Hector's dolphins."You know, the moa, even though it's like an indigenous bird, I've never seen one."To me, it's not as special as something that's here and now. I want Hector's to be around for the here and now and in the future."The World Wildlife Fund will use any money raised to support its campaign to protect dolphins from the impacts of trawling and set net fishing.Chris Howe, WWF New Zealand executive director, says the plight of the Hector's dolphin - found only in New Zealand - is "a national conservation emergency" but scientific study had indicated that, with full protection from human threats, its population could recover.

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