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Marine scientists have urged New Zealand to step up efforts to save the world’s rarest dolphin, saying only a few dozen Maui’s dolphins remain and immediate action is needed to prevent their extinction.

The Maui’s dolphin, dubbed “the hobbit of the sea” and found only in shallow waters off the North Island’s west coast, is listed as critically endangered, and the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) scientific committee said it was extremely concerned that fishing will entirely wipe out the sub-species. “It is of the highest priority to take immediate management actions that will eliminate by-catch of Maui’s dolphins,” it said in a report published Tuesday. “This includes full closure of any fisheries within the range of Maui’s dolphins that are known to pose a risk.”

The grey and white Maui’s, named after a Polynesian demi-god, is one of the world’s smallest dolphins, with a maximum length of 1.7m. An estimated three-to-four dolphins are accidentally killed as by-catch every year, a loss the IWC report said was unsustainable in a population so small that is believed to have dwindled to about 50 adults.

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