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Defending False Killer Whales From Longlines

False killer whale, snagged on a longline, becomes victim of commercial fishing.

False killer whale, snagged on a longline, becomes victim of commercial fishing.

National Marine Fisheries Service Photo

What's at Stake

False killer whales are suffering because of Hawaii’s longline fisheries. Earthjustice is in court to ensure that these majestic creatures are protected from death and serious injury.


In 2004, under pressure from an Earthjustice lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service finally re-classified the Hawaiʻi-based longline fishery as "Category 1"—a designation for fisheries that annually kill and seriously harm marine mammals at unstainable rates—due to its excessive incidental take of Hawaiʻi's false killer whales.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this recategorization should have triggered the rapid creation of a team that would ensure improvements are made in the fishery to avoid killing or seriously injuring false killer whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service has failed to do so, claiming inadequate funding.

Earthjustice is involved in a long-standing court battle to ensure that appropriate actions are taken to protect this incredible imperiled species.

Case ID



Case Updates

March 17, 2017 | In the News: Honolulu Civil Beat

In Search of Hawaii’s Mysterious False Killer Whales

David Henkin, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice: “Historically, a major obstacle to securing adequate protection for Hawaii’s false killer whales has been the lack of basic scientific information; how many animals are out there, where are they, how many distinct populations.”

March 20, 2013 | In the News: KITV4 News

New regulations will trigger area shutdown after second fatal hooking

In response to the fatal hooking of a false killer whale in February, the National Marine Fisheries Service has warned that a second fatal hooking would trigger the shutdown of more than 100,000 square nautical miles of fishing water south of the Hawaiian Islands for the remainder of 2013. This is a condition of regulations established at the beginning of the year that also require the use of weaker hooks and thicker lines, which are less likely to endanger these animals, which are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

November 26, 2012 | In the News: The Maui News

Agency agrees to new long-line fishing rules

The National Marine Fisheries Service has settled a lawsuit filed by environmental groups over accidental bycatch of the false killer whales when Hawaiian fishermen are fishing for tuna and swordfish. The agency has promised to set rules to prevent the deadly effects of long-line fishing on the rare dolphin species being killed at three times the sustainable rate.