Maui’s dolphin (also known as Popoto) is the smallest known dolphin in existence.
These dolphins are a subspecies of Hector’s dolphin, which prior to 2002 was considered the North Island Hector’s dolphin.
It wasn’t until further research clarified skeletal and genetic differences among the two types of dolphins that Maui’s dolphin was given its own classification as a subspecies of Hector’s dolphin.
Not only is Maui’s dolphin one of the smallest known dolphins it also happens to be one of the rarest dolphins with estimates stating that there may be less than 100 Maui’s dolphins in existence today.
Maui’s dolphin is primarily found living in and around the coastline near the shore of North Island in New Zealand (often in waters that are less than 70 feet deep) which helps these dolphins avoid threats from predators and easily keep track of their pods.
This subspecies of dolphin can grow to lengths of around 4 – 6 feet and generally weigh around 95 – 115 pounds when fully matured.
Maui’s dolphin is easily identified because of its small black rounded dorsal fin (a trait that exists among Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins) which is located on its back.
These dolphins have tapered streamlined bodies and a short snout, which allows them to travel through the ocean with little water resistance.
In terms of skin tone Maui’s dolphin as light gray sides and back with white and black lines and markings located across its sides and stomach.
Given the limited information that is available on Maui’s dolphin it is estimated that this species has an estimated lifespan of around 20 years.
Baby Maui’s dolphins consume milk which they receive from their mothers nipples until they learn to hunt on their own.
In many cases it usually takes around 6 months for a baby Maui’s dolphin to learn to hunt and be able to feed itself at which point it can stop feeding on its mothers milk.
Like other species of dolphin Maui’s dolphin is also known to use echolocation to help it search for food and navigate through the ocean at night.
Maui’s dolphin isn’t known to make migration trips and generally stays within the same areas throughout the year only taking small trips from one local location to another.
These dolphins can be found swimming off the west coast of the North Island in New Zealand.
Previously in the 1970’s Maui’s dolphin could also be found in the Taranaki area of West New Zealand, however a lack of recent spottings have led marine biologists and scientists to believe they are no longer living in that area.
Today they can only be seen living off the North West Coast of the central and upper North Island areas.
Maui’s dolphins tend to stay in small pods consisting of 1 – 5 dolphins.
Although pod sizes are small these dolphins have been seen exhibiting very playful behavior among one another .
Some of these behaviors include blowing bubbles, playing with seaweed, play fighting, chasing each other around and playing a number of dolphin related games which are considered important for social development and growing healthy relationships.
When it comes to bearing offspring matured female dolphins are known to give birth to a single offspring once every 2 4 years.
Female dolphins typically mature between the ages of 7 – 9 at which point they can begin baring offspring of their own.
Because of their slow reproductive behaviors it has become increasingly difficult for Maui’s dolphins to repopulate their species and over the years it is estimated that Maui’s dolphins population is actually on a decline despite their endangered dolphin status.
While Maui’s dolphin isn’t hunted it does face several natural and man-made threats which may contribute to diminishing populations.
Natural threats include diseases, parasites and predators, however since Maui’s dolphin lives near shallow waters they rarely face attacks from outside predators.
The larger threats these dolphins face comes from disease and parasites, especially those that are easily transferable from one dolphin to another and because Maui’s dolphins population is extremely small and isolated they stand a good chance of becoming extinct should a disease or parasite affect their habitats.
Man made threats to the Maui’s dolphin species includes dolphins anciently getting tangled in fishing nets and being captured during other fishing activities.