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Our marine birds and mammals

New Zealand has a diverse range of species and subspecies of marine birds and mammals that have established naturally here, and raise their young along our coastlines.

New Zealand is recognised globally as providing important habitat for seabirds. Nearly one-quarter of the world’s seabird species breed here and we have more endemic seabird species than any other country (Croxall et al, 2012).

Of the world’s marine mammals, New Zealand has species and subspecies of seals, sea lions, fur seals, whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Nearly half the world’s whale, dolphin, and porpoise species are found in New Zealand’s waters (Gordon et al, 2010; Taylor, 2000).

In this chapter we discuss the pressures on our marine birds and mammals. We report on ‘bycatch’ – when animals are unintentionally caught and killed during commercial and recreational fishing operations.

We also report on the conservation status of New Zealand’s indigenous seabirds, shorebirds, and marine mammals and whether that status has improved or worsened in recent years. The conservation status of a species or subspecies indicates its risk of extinction, based on the size of the population of mature individuals, and the stability of that population over time (see Appendix 1: New Zealand Threat Classification System).

Top issue

Native marine birds and mammals are threatened with extinction

What is happening?

Many native marine animals that breed in New Zealand are threatened with extinction:

  • 35 percent of seabird species and subspecies – including albatrosses, petrels, penguins, shags, and terns
  • 57 percent of shorebird species and subspecies – including herons and dotterels
  • 28 percent of marine mammal species and subspecies – including dolphins, whales, and New Zealand sea lions.

Why does it matter?

These species are tāonga (treasures) to Māori and can inspire and delight us with their unique, natural beauty.

The extinction of species may have consequential impacts on other species and the resilience of ecosystems – particularly if the extinction extended to a high proportion of one animal group such as seabirds.