The false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) of Hawaiʻi are in trouble. When the Hawaiʻi-based longline fleet catches yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, and other target species on its hooks, false killer whales are attracted to this all-you-can-eat buffet and are often wounded or killed by the gear. Earthjustice has gone to court to compel the National Marine Fisheries Service to implement a plan to reduce harm and killing of false killer whales by commercial longline fishermen. Read full article: Protecting False Killer Whales in Hawaiʻi.
False killer whale snagged on a longline becomes victim of commercial fishing.
The whales (Pseudorca crassidens, which are actually large dolphins) have suffered unsustainable levels of death and serious injury in the Hawaiʻi-based longline fisheries.
False killer whales are attracted to bait on longlines.
The National Marine Fisheries Service’s own data have shown for over a decade that Hawaiʻi-based longline fishing kills false killer whales in Hawaiian waters at unsustainable rates.
Struggling to get away, false killer whales are wounded.
The latest data, which the National Marine Fisheries Service released in August 2012, reveal that, each year, longline fishing kills an average of more than 13 false killer whales from the “Hawaiʻi Pelagic Stock” (animals found more than 22 nautical miles from the main Hawaiian Islands), nearly 50 percent more than what the agency has said that population can sustain.
When completely ensnared in longline gear, the whales can die.
False killer whales in the “Hawaiʻi Insular Stock” (animals found within 76 nautical miles of the main Hawaiian Islands) are being killed in Hawaiʻi-based longlines at nearly twice the sustainable rate, contributing to a 9 percent decline in the population each year since 1989.
Only about 150 of these animals remain, and the Fisheries Service has proposed to list them as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
When the Hawaiʻi-based longline fleet catches yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, and other target species on its hooks, false killer whales are attracted to this all-you-can-eat buffet and are often wounded or killed by the gear.
Earthjustice went to court on behalf of the conservation groups in 2003 to force the government to classify the Hawaiʻi longline fisheries as “Category I” due to their unsustainable “take” of false killer whales. The Fisheries Service made the classification in 2004, but failed to follow up on the listing by convening a team to develop a take reduction plan, prompting a second round of litigation.
Typical injuries include dorsal fin damage or hooking with trailing gear that leaves the whales unable to swim, gather food or reproduce. Whales can also get tangled in the longliners’ miles of lines and drown.
In January 2010, the Fisheries Service finally established a take reduction team for Hawaiʻi’s false killer whales, which included scientists, conservationists, state and federal agencies and fishing industry representatives.
Within six months, the team achieved consensus on a draft take reduction plan, but the Service then failed to finalize the plan by December 2011, as the Marine Mammal Protection Act required, triggering the latest lawsuit.
False killer whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Earthjustice has been in court for almost a decade to compel the National Marine Fisheries Service to implement a plan to reduce harm and killing of false killer whales by commercial longline fishermen.
Deaths from the longline fishing fleet are occurring at three to four times the level Hawaiʻi’s false killer whales can sustain.
"These are intelligent mammals that deserve not to be indiscriminately killed in order to put a tuna fish sandwich together," says Earthjustice Attorney David Henkin.
False killer whale mother and calf.
In October 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service pledged to finalize and implement protections for false killer whales by November 30, 2012.
“This case vividly illustrates why it is vital for citizens to be able to access the courts to hold government agencies accountable,” said Earthjustice Attorney David Henkin.
“It has taken three lawsuits over nearly a decade to compel the Fisheries Service finally to protect Hawaiʻi’s false killer whales. Without citizen suits, the agency may well have dragged its feet until it was too late to save these unique marine mammals.”