WWF wants wider Māui's dolphin protections

Māui's dolphins (Supplied/Oregon State University)
Māui's dolphins (Supplied/Oregon State University)

A new study shows the critically endangered Māui's dolphin could be making a comeback - but campaigners warn it's no excuse for inaction.

New University of Auckland and Oregon State University figures show population numbers could be as high as 75, with an estimated 63 adults.

But WWF New Zealand spokesperson Alex Smith insists the increase doesn't mean they are safe.

"They only exist on the west coast of New Zealand. They're right on the edge of extinction," he says.

"We need to do everything we can to save these precious and amazing animals. This can't be used as an excuse for inaction."

Mr Smith says the dolphins will not be safe until fishing methods change.

"Scientists estimate that 95 percent of unnatural Māui deaths are caused by entanglement and drowning in set netting or trawl fishing.

"They need to be protected across their habitat from set-netting and trawling, and the fishers affected by that protection need to be supported by the Government to transition to dolphin-friendly practices."

Mr Smith says a sanctuary should be set up from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui River.

Earlier this year conservation group Nabu International estimated the species could be extinct within 15 years.