Efforts within New Zealand to lobby against the killing of Minke whales seem ironic while the country's own endangered dolphins still face risks, a leading marine mammal researcher says.
On Wednesday, Japan announced its decision to quit the International Whaling Commission, prompting fears of a return to large-scale commercial hunting.
Otago University Professor Liz Slootensaid New Zealand and Australia should be applauded for spearheading the opposition against Japan's so-called "scientific whaling" programme.
However, she said successive governments had failed to deal with the threat to Hector's and Māui dolphins in New Zealand waters.
"It's a little ironic that New Zealand is lobbying against killing Minke whales in the Southern Ocean, and has done for decades. Yet we are still killing our own Hector's and Māui dolphins in fishing nets, and that's completely avoidable."
There were just 55 Māui dolphins left and about 15,000 Hector's dolphins, compared with 500,000 Minke whales in the Southern Ocean.
The government and the fishing industry were dragging their feet on making real changes, Prof Slooten said.
"There's slow improvement - we have a sanctuary here at Banks Peninsula and a protected area on the North Island's West Coast.
"At Banks Peninsula, dolphins are protected out to four nautical miles but they range 20 miles out.
"The amount of fish New Zealand catches and exports that are caught in gill nets [which are the main culprits] barely registers. So there's no economic argument or legal rationale for not switching to dolphin friendly nets."
The Ministry for Primary Industries said it was working with Fisheries New Zealand and the Department of Conservation to update its threat management plan for Hector's and Māui dolphins.
A spokesperson for the ministry said it would be going out for public consultation early next year.
"Part of this review is to consider what further measures are required to protect these nationally treasured marine mammals.
"When consultation starts, we would welcome submissions on this to ensure that all the key risks to them are being managed appropriately."
Trawl restrictions were already in place covering 8000sq km and set-netting was banned over 15,000 sq km.
"It is also a legal requirement for fishers to report captures of these dolphins."