Maui Dolphins are the world's smallest and rarest dolphin and are endemic to New Zealand, meaning that they can not be found anywhere else in the world. The IUCN (World Conservation Union) has listed this species as critically endangered. There are 32 species of marine mammals in the world and Maui Dolphins have been determined as the most at risk of extinction. If these dolphins were to become extinct, they would be the first since China's Yangtze River Dolphin was determined to be functionally extinct in 2006.
Maui Dolphins are unique in the fact that they are genetically distinct from other dolphin species that are endemic to New Zealand, such as the Hector's Dolphin. Although these two dolphin subspecies are visually identical, it is possible to differentiate between the two using genetic testing or skeletal analysis. These slight genetic differences are due to the fact that Maui Dolphins are found exclusively on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in areas between Kaipara Harbour and Raglan Harbour. Hector's Dolphins, however, are located around the South Island of New Zealand, but evidence exists of the subspecies travelling north in order to coexist alongside the Maui Dolphin population. This assists the genetic diversity of the species as a whole, in addition to the opportunity for individuals to produce offspring and prevent extinction.
Endemic: The state of being unique to a particular location and not found anywhere else in the world.
Critically Endangered: A category for species that are at the highest risk of extinction. There are currently 2129 animal species and 1821 plant species listed in this category.
Extinction: The state in which no individuals of the particular species are alive or in existence.
Functionally Extinct: A species that still has individuals alive, however there is no chance that the species will not become extinct within a short period of time.
Genetic Testing: The examination of an organism's DNA.
Skeletal Analysis: The examination of an organism's skeleton.
Genetic Diversity: The variety of different characteristics or traits within a species.