Posted on: January 17, 2011

Pacific Whale Foundation Supports Proposal to Add Hawaiian Insular False Killer Whales to U.S. Endangered Species List

Pacific Whale Foundation is adding its support to a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposal to add Hawaiian insular false killer whales to the list of species protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Daniela Maldini, research director at Pacific Whale Foundation, will testify in support of the NMFS proposal at a public meeting on the topic, convened by NMFS, on January 20 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., at the McCoy Pavilion at Ala Moana Park in Honolulu.

Pacific Whale Foundation is also conducting an educational campaign to promote public awareness and encourage action to protect this unique Hawaiian species.

“So many people are unaware of our year-round population of false killer whales or the plight that these animals are facing,” said Anne Rillero, conservation director at Pacific Whale Foundation. “We are working to educate the public quickly, to generate as much support as possible for the NMFS proposal to list Hawaiian insular false killer whales as an endangered species.”

False killer whales are large oceanic dolphins that have a life span similar to that of humans. Hawaii is home to a genetically unique population of false killer whales, known to scientists as Hawaiian insular false killer whales. The word "insular" means "of an island or pertaining to an island." Fewer than 123 Hawaiian insular false killer whales are believed to be alive today and it's estimated that only 46 are capable of breeding.

False killer whales are attracted to hooked fish caught by Hawaii’s longline fishing industry, and become snagged or entangled, which can lead to injury or death. Other threats to Hawaiian insular false killer whales include a reduction in the number and size of large deepwater fish that false killer whales prey upon. Because false killer whales are top-level predators, their bodies accumulate PCBs and other toxins, putting them at a greater risk of infection and disease.

“These false killer whales are year-round residents of Hawaii, yet relatively little is known about them,” said Daniela Maldini. “I sincerely hope the NMFS will recognize the Hawaiian insular false killer whales as a critical component of the Hawaiian ecosystem, and will indeed protect them under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.”

Hawaiian insular false killer whales live in an area ranging up to 70 miles from the islands. They have marked differences in their genetic characteristics from other false killer whales, different behaviors and different “cultural” patterns, including how and where they locate prey. This population spends its entire life around the Hawaiian islands.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s research study of odontocetes (toothed whales and dolphins) in Maui County, permitted by NMFS, includes false killer whales. To date, Pacific Whale Foundation has individually identified 56 false killer whales in Maui County. The individual whales are identified by examining photos of their dorsal fins, pigmentation patterns, nicks and the overall shape of the dorsal fin help to distinguish one animal from another.

NMFS will be accepting comments on their proposal to list these animals as endangered through February 15, 2011. Readers can submit their comments electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal to ensure that this important protection is provided to the Hawaiian insular false killer whale. 

For more information, readers can also view the Pacific Whale Foundation online action alert.