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Defending False Killer Whales from Commercial Fishing in Hawai'i

A new scientific study (pdf) paints a bleak picture for Hawai'i's false killer whales.

For nearly a decade, the National Marine Fisheries Service's data(pdf) have shown the Hawai'i longline fishery is killing these rare marine mammals at rates far beyond what the population can sustain.

The latest data show the number of false killer whales in Hawai'i's nearshore waters—a genetically distinct population—has crashed over the last 20 years, with a single pod observed in 1989 containing almost four times as many whales as the current population for the entire main Hawaiian Islands (which now numbers only about 120 whales).

While scientists are still assessing all the causes of this dramatic decline, longline fishing is a prime suspect.

Whales in Hawai'i's nearshore waters bear the telltale scars from entanglement in longline fishing gear, which can drag as far as 50 miles behind commercial fishing vessels. Typical injuries include dorsal fin damage that can leave the whales unable to swim, gather food or reproduce. Whales can also get tangled in the miles of lines and drown.

To stop the continuing slaughter of Hawai'i's false killer whales, on March 17, 2009, Earthjustice, representing a coalition of conservation groups (Hui Malama i Kohola, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Turtle Island Restoration Network), filed suit(pdf) in federal court, challenging the Fisheries Service’s failure to devise a plan to protect the whales from the Hawai'i-based longline fishery.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Fisheries Service was required to establish a take reduction team to develop such a plan no later than July 2005, but instead has done nothing.

In December 2008, the Government Accountability Office issued a scathing critique (pdf) of the Fisheries Service's failure to protect marine mammals from commercial fisheries, singling out Hawai'i's false killer whales as a particularly egregious case of agency mismanagement.

The GAO report found "the false killer whale is the only marine mammal for which incidental take by commercial fisheries is above its maximum removal level that is not covered by a take reduction team."

We aim to change that.

Tags:  Oceans