The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) announced a victory: the Obama Administration has proposed putting Hawaii's near-shore population of false killer whales on the endangered species list. The move came in response to our formal petition on behalf of the whales. Only some 150 of these magnificent marine mammals remain in the wild. Their numbers have plummeted over the past two decades as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals, a reduced food supply and injuries from fishing gear.
"Endangered Species Act protections will give false killer whales a chance to survive, and will also help save their extraordinary habitat -- the ocean oasis surrounding the Hawaiian Islands," says Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst for NRDC's Marine Mammal Protection Project. False killer whales, like the orcas they resemble, are members of the dolphin family and normally live in deep open water. The dwindling Hawaiian population is the only group on the planet known to make its home near land. Adults can reach 20 feet in length and up to 1,500 pounds. They are highly social creatures and form close bonds with other members of their pods, mating for decades.
Their primary food sources include deepwater fish such as mahi mahi and yellowfin tuna, putting them in direct competition with fishing fleets. One study reported that Hawaiian false killer whales are four times as likely as other whales and dolphins in the islands to be disfigured by fishing gear. If approved, their new endangered status will help ensure that human activities do not jeopardize the whales or their habitat. The government is expected to make a final decision by the end of 2011. If Hawaiian false killer whales are declared endangered, they will become only the fourth U.S. population of whales or dolphins to be listed since 1973.