Joint City Statement on Sunday March 24, from Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke and host city agency ChristchurchNZ


Joint Statement

Just like all the excited and patient fans at the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix, Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke is disappointed there was no racing on the first day of the event, said Mishele Radford, Chair of Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke.

Radford continues “Our iwi and hapū are part of Ōtautahi community and we want to see our beautiful city succeed. Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke would have loved to see racing happen too, while ensuring the protection of precious nationally vulnerable Upokohue/Hector’s Dolphins. “The involvement of Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke was to review and provide input into the Marine Mammal Management Plan (MMMP). We do not have a role in implementing the MMMP. SailGP knew what they signed up for when they decided to hold the event within a marine mammal sanctuary.”

The safety of the endangered Upokohue/Hector’s dolphins who live in Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour was always a consideration when the city contracted with SailGP to host the event. SailGP, with input from Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke and advice from the Department of Conservation, developed a revised Marine Mammal Management Plan (MMMP) for the event to protect the dolphins from the possibility of being struck by the blade of an F50 foiling at speeds of up to 100km/h.

SailGP owns this plan which Andrew Thompson, SailGP Managing Director, called “an industry-leading example of SailGP’s commitment to the environments in which we operate.”
Not being able to race was always a possibility. Racing was delayed for 45 minutes on the first day of racing at the 2023 Christchurch event and SailGP still wanted to return to the city this year, despite the event being contracted to be held in Auckland. The management plan exists to protect the mammals of the Harbour and also to help SailGP avoid breaking the Marine Mammals Protection Act and subsequent prosecution. It is an offence to harass, disturb, injure, or kill marine mammals. This is also why it is illegal to chase dolphins off the race course.

ChristchurchNZ GM Destination & Attraction Loren Aberhart says “The city is proud to have pulled together a global major event with 12 weeks’ notice within the parameters of a natural environment and scheduled around commercial maritime operations and health and safety measures. We want to thank all the city partners who worked collaboratively in partnership with SailGP to make this spectacular event happen.”

Aberhart says: “We all want SailGP to succeed in our city and to be able to race while also protecting our native species. We are totally pumped to see racing today on a beautiful afternoon in Lyttelton and of course to see the Black Foils take out the win.” Host city event data obtained from Fresh Info revealed the 2023 ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix event generated almost 23,000 visitor nights and an estimated visitor spend of more than $4 million for Christchurch.

Key facts about the Marine Mammals Protection Act:

In New Zealand, marine mammals including Hector’s dolphins/upokohue are protected species under the Marine Mammals Protection Act and Marine Mammals Protection Regulations. This legislation directs how vessels must behave around marine mammals and says it is illegal to harass or disturb them. All vessels and people involved in the SailGP event, including any support boats or spectators, must abide by this legislation. It is a legal requirement. People controlling vessels who encounter a dolphin or other marine mammal must travel no faster than idle/no wake speed if within 300m of a dolphin, and do not herd, harass or obstruct marine mammals or cut through groups.

Key facts about Upokohue/Hector’s Dolphin

1) Upokohue have a conservation status of ‘Nationally Vulnerable’ and their populations are vulnerable to decline for several reasons:

  • Short lifespan: Māui and Hector’s dolphins may live until their mid-20s, which is short compared with other dolphins and whales.
  • Late maturity: females have their first calf (baby) at 5–9 years of age.
  • Low reproduction rate: females produce only one calf every 2–4 years.
  • Entanglement in both commercial and recreational fishing gear; particularly set nets and trawling, resulting in incidental mortality or serious injury.

2) Their total population is approximately 15,000, of which about 1500 live in Banks Peninsula.

  • This Banks Peninsula population is one of the highest concentrations of upokohue/Hector’s dolphins around the South Island.
  • The dolphins reside in the bays and harbours of Banks Peninsula, including Lyttelton Harbour/Whakaraupō, in the summer and autumn months and move further offshore in the cooler months.

3) The calving season for upokohue/Hector’s dolphins is between October and March. Calves are regularly sighted within Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbour/Whakaraupō each summer.

  • The potential risks SailGP poses to upokohue/Hector’s dolphins are from vessel strike and avoidance behaviours (dolphins leaving their natural habitat because of the activity from the event – especially from the underwater noise from the support and spectator boats).
  • Marine mammals already face both of these risks year-round within Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour, but the risk level will be heightened by SailGP’s training and racing activities.
  • Newborn calves and young animals are vulnerable to boat strike as they are less aware of risk, spend more time on the surface and dive more slowly than mature dolphins.
  • Upokohue/Hector’s dolphins are naturally inquisitive mammals and will approach and interact with vessels.
  • Marine mammals use sounds for communication, orientation, foraging and predator avoidance. An increase in underwater noise can impact marine mammals, resulting in avoidance of noisy areas, behavioural changes, auditory masking, or physical injury.

4) Upokohue/Hector’s dolphins are a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu.

5) More info: Facts about Hector’s and Māui dolphin (

REACTIVE Q&As for Sunday March 24

Q. Do they stop ships coming into Lyttelton Port if there are dolphins present?
A. No, they don’t. Ships do not pose similar dangers to dolphins as the blade of an F50 foiling at speeds of up to 100km/h. Nor do they repeatedly and abruptly change direction like competitive sailing boats.

Q. Why couldn’t organisers just herd the dolphins off the course? Or entice them away with bait?
A. Because doing that would be breaking the law. Either of those tactics would be disturbing or harassing the dolphins, which is an offense under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. It is an offence to harass, disturb, injure, or kill marine mammals.

Q. Was the MMMP too cautious? Is that why racing was cancelled?
A. No, the dolphin that halted racing sat in the middle of the racecourse. It did not test any measures of the MMMP because the location of the dolphin meant that any sailing above 5 knots would have breached the act.

Q. Is this because Christchurch city has more restrictive measures than other host cities?
A. This is not unique to Christchurch. SailGP has marine mammal management plans for all its events and had significant disruptions to its grand final event in San Francisco when a whale remained on its racecourse. Also, the Marine Mammals Protection Act applies to all New Zealand waters, not just Lyttelton Harbour.