NMFS/MMPA Permit #21321

These elusive large mammals are actually dolphins!

False killer whales (FKW) are essentially the larger brethren of dolphins. Members of a dolphin group known as “blackfish,” false killer whales were named for a skull structure similar to that of killer whales.

A primary study subject of PWF researchers, the main Hawaiian Islands insular population of false killer whales was listed as endangered in 2012 with an estimated fewer than 200 individuals remaining. Our 20 years of FKW research, in conjunction with other studies, has found FKW sighting rates near the Main Hawaii Islands have significantly declined over the past two decades.

In 2010, a biological review team identified 20-plus threats negatively impacting Hawai‘i’s false killer whale population. Of the 29 listed, interaction with fisheries, or bycatch, was determined a substantial threat to population health. Unintentional hooking of nontargeted species (such as false killer whales and other cetaceans), fishing gear entanglement and competition with commercial fisheries for food sources—all of which fall under the bycatch umbrella—were cited as among several factors inhibiting species’ recovery.

False killer whales are elusive animals, which makes data collection challenging. As such, PWF relies heavily on community scientists and ocean users who are encouraged to alert authorities upon any sighting in Hawaiian waters by calling the FKW Hotline at 888-256-9840.

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Key statistics

Interesting facts about false killer whales
Found in offshore tropical to subtropical waters deeper than 3,300 feet
Average length is 16–20 feet with weight reaching up to 3,000 pounds
Travel in groups of 12 to 18 individuals
Have been observed sharing food with group members
Fast-moving and acrobatic
Lifespan is approximately 60 years

How We’re Helping

We conduct dedicated research on this endangered species
  • Actively engage with and contribute data to NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) False Killer Whale Take Reduction Team that focuses on high incidents of bycatch
  • Implemented the False Killer Whale Rapid Response Program for ocean users to report sightings via our FKW Hotline (808-HELPFKW)
  • Continued long-term monitoring to determine life history traits, movement and distribution patterns’
  • Utilization of drones, photogrammetry and underwater footage to assess growth rates, detect pregnancy, examine behavior and assess overall health status
  • Photo-identification to provide abundance estimates necessary for population management
Photo Credit: David Fleetham

Project Partners

Two dolphins jumping out of the water.


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