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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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When gone really is gone

In a war of words that seemed to go on forever but was, in fact, done and dusted in a few days, we watched Sir Russell Coutts metaphorically stamp his well-heeled feet and pout as he huffed and puffed about “another example of New Zealand being handcuffed by unprecedented layers of bureaucracy and red tape”.

Coutts’ frowning face graced our TV screens all weekend as he railed at being unable to race SailGP boats through an area where endangered dolphins were present. Even though the rules of the event [which he presumably agreed to] reportedly made it clear it was disallowed.

The race in Lyttelton was delayed on Saturday when a dolphin appeared in the race area. The dolphin stayed put, causing the day’s racing to be abandoned – thereby causing Coutts to become unhappy.

An RNZ report said under SailGP’s marine mammal management plan, racing had to stop if a dolphin was sighted and not continue until 20 minutes after it was last seen. The plan was developed alongside DOC, Environment Canterbury, and Ngāti Wheke to protect Hector’s dolphins, which breed in Lyttelton’s vicinity at this time of year.

DOC’s website says Hector’s dolphins, one of the world’s smallest, are classified as “nationally vulnerable” with an estimated total population of only 15,000 older than one year. They are mostly found around the coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Coutts has now weighed in on the science as well as the red tape, disputing the status of the dolphins. 1Newsreported on Sunday that he said that, in his experience on the ocean, dolphins are “extremely intelligent mammals” and “inherently aware” of boats around them.

“The Hector’s dolphin is not an endangered species,” he insisted.

A leading dolphin expert disputed his claims. Otago University professor Liz Slooten, with more than 30 years of experience in the field, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature does classify Hector’s dolphins as endangered. And while dolphins are intelligent, the boats’ speed is the problem, she said.

“It would be a bit like saying that children are inherently aware of cars and trucks and, therefore, will never have an accident. These boats are going at 100kmh, these aren’t something that these dolphins have ever encountered in their lives before.”

Slooten said race organisers had been warned multiple times that Lyttleton Harbour was a bad place for the event.

And yet, Coutts lashed out at the New Zealand “red tape” that hadn’t hampered SailGP races anywhere else and claimed there had never been an incident in 35 events.

There are several evident problems with his approach – the most apparent being that many other places in the world have decimated their indigenous species to the extent that they are not present in highly populated spots where races happen and, in many cases, are not present at all.

New Zealand is now in the privileged position of being able to learn from the many mistakes other places have made in managing their indigenous species and their environments.

Let’s hope we don’t pander to the entitled whingeing of people who think a few days of fun and profit is worth more than the survival of an entire species.

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