The populations of many of New Zealand’s marine birds and mammals have declined because of multiple past and present-day pressures including historic exploitation, predation, habitat loss and modification, and disease. Fishing bycatch is still an important cause of death for some rare species. While attribution of pressures from climate change will always be difficult, climate change may exacerbate existing pressures, for example, through more intense winter storms in the south of New Zealand.
Over the past 50 years or so we have become better at recognising that our marine birds and mammals are an important part of our cultural heritage. Their extinction is a permanent change in the state of the marine environment. Some seabird species continue to be an important source of sustainable harvest for hapū and iwi, supporting Māori cultural values. New Zealanders and overseas visitors enjoy interacting with marine wildlife, through both recreation and commercial tourism.
The future of our marine birds and mammals, most of which are at or near the top of the food chain (apex species), is of international interest and has importance for global biodiversity. The extinction of these species may have consequential impacts on other species and the resilience of ecosystems. However, the specific potential impacts of losing these species on New Zealand’s wider marine environment are poorly understood.