There are currently only 63 Māui dolphins left in existence. These dolphins live off the west coast of New Zealand, and are in severe danger of going extinct.
The Māui population was decimated in the 1970s by fishing companies using a new kind of net in their habitat, accidentally catching—and killing—scores of dolphins. A decade later, environmental activists realized that the Māui were in rapid decline and took steps to protect them, but by then there were only a few hundred left.
Since then, researchers have used planes as well as boats to track the Māui. But these methods were expensive, inexact and brought information rarely.
The MĀUI63 Project was created to save these dolphins with the help of drones. Drones are less expensive to fly than airplanes and can be flown more often. Also, the visual data drones collected did not require review from an expert in order to identify dolphins in the water.
In addition to finding and tracking Māui dolphins, the drone they are developing will be used to gather information about how the dolphins behave, their habitat, and the changing size of their population.
Scientists hope to use this data to conduct risk modelling for the dolphins and to shape policy in New Zealand that could help protect them.