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Endangered dolphins on course prevent racing at SailGP New Zealand in Christchurch

The presence of an endangered species of dolphins on the race course prevented sailing on the first day of the New Zealand leg of the SailGP series on Saturday.

The race venue on Lyttelton Harbour near Christchurch on the South Island is home to around 1,000 of the remaining 10,000 Hector’s dolphins, which are native to New Zealand.

Under the conditions of the two-day event, racing cannot take place while dolphins are on or near the course. Observers have been assigned to spot dolphins and warn organizers if they stray too close to the race area.

The SailGP website said: “Race Day 1 canceled due to prolonged mammal activity on racecourse for duration of scheduled race window.”

On Saturday, there were dolphins near the start line of the course throughout the period in which racing was due to take place. The 10 competing teams waited on the course for around 90 minutes before organizers determined there was not enough time left in the day for even one race to be completed.

Three fleet races were scheduled Saturday and two more are scheduled Sunday before the top three teams compete in the final to decide the event champion.

In a further brief statement on the event website, organizers said: “SailGP is committed to minimizing risk to the marine environment and has comprehensive protocols developed in conjunction with local authorities and experts to avoid contact with wildlife.”

Sunday’s racing is expected to go ahead as scheduled, dolphins permitting.

Lyttelton became the venue for the New Zealand leg of the series after Auckland indicated it would not be able to host the event. SailGP chief executive, New Zealand-born Russell Coutts has indicated Lyttelton will not be considered as a venue again because of what he described as “activists.”

He was referring to conservationists who have condemned the decision to allow the event to take place in the dolphin’s habitat.

“Unfortunately we won’t be here next year and possibly not ever because we need those dates to fit in with the international calendar,” Coutts said.

While there was some frustration among sailors while racing was delayed Saturday, most accepted the cause of the delay.

“We don’t want to be racing if there are mammals on the course,” New Zealand wing trimmer Blair Tuke said in a television interview. “That is not good for anyone.”

The SailGP series is in its fourth year and involves 10 national teams racing identical high-tech F50 foiling catamarans that can reach speeds of around 50 knots (57 mph).

Christchurch is the ninth round of the series. There are three regattas after Christchurch in Bermuda, Halifax and New York before the three leading teams compete in the final in San Francisco in July.

Each event involves five fleet races before a final, the winner of which is the event champion. The champion is awarded 10 points on the overall series standings, the second team nine points, third eight points, down to one point for 10th place.

Australia currently has 66 points, New Zealand 58 points, Canada 52, Spain 48 and France 45. Canada won the Lyttelton event last year ahead of host New Zealand and Australia won the last leg of the series in Sydney.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports