Longlines Hook False Killer Whale, Threatening Hawai‘i Population
|This photo shows the brutal struggle of a false killer whale when hooked on a longline lead. Their injuries during this fight can be fatal. Photo: NOAA.|
Conservation groups urge immediate implementation of protection plan
Honolulu, Hawai‘i – Earlier this week, the National Marine Fisheries Service confirmed that, on January 29, 2013, a false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens, a large dolphin species) in Hawaiian waters sustained injuries likely to be fatal when it was hooked by a Hawai‘i-based longline tuna fishing boat. Under the Fisheries Service’s False Killer Whale Take Reduction Plan, a second such hooking of a false killer whale in Hawaiian waters this calendar year will trigger the closure to tuna longline fishing of a 112,575 square nautical mile area to the south of the main Hawaiian Islands where fishery interactions with false killer whales frequently occur (“the Southern Exclusion Area”). The Fisheries Service issued the plan in November 2012 in response to a series of lawsuits brought on behalf of the Turtle Island Restoration Network and Center for Biological Diversity by Earthjustice to protect Hawai‘i’s false killer whales from unsustainable levels of death and serious injury in the longline fishery.
View more photos of the devastating toll that Hawai‘i-based longline fishing inflicts on Hawai‘i’s false killer whales, click here.
View a map of the Southern Exclusion Area, click here.
“The magnificent false killer whale doesn’t deserve a cruel, painful
death at the end of a longline hook, and it is only the latest victim
of this indiscriminate fishing method,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and
executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
“Critically endangered leatherback sea turtles, sharks and albatross are
all caught and killed by industrial longline fishing. The ecological
impact of industrial longlining is mounting and threatens the very
balance of our imperiled oceans.”
“The hooking and likely lethal injury of a false killer whale less than a month into 2013 should be a wake-up call to longline fishers that they need to put the protection plan into effect immediately or risk closure of their fishing grounds,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity, who served on the working group the Fisheries Service convened to help develop the plan. “The plan requires weaker hooks and stronger lines precisely to prevent this type of harm.”
In the January 29, 2013 incident, the false killer whale was hooked in the mouth. As the crew reeled it in, the branch line broke, releasing the whale with an estimated 20-30 feet of the branch line, all of the leader (about one foot), and the hook still attached. The Fisheries Service concluded that the incident was a “serious injury” – one likely to lead to death – because hookings in the mouth with substantial amount of gear still attached prevent the animal from eating and/or cause drowning through entanglement.
The protection plan requires longline fishers to switch to the use of “weak hooks” that are strong enough to hold an ahi tuna, the fishery’s target species, but weak enough to allow a larger, stronger false killer whale to straighten the hook and pull it out, avoiding serious injury. The plan also requires stronger branch lines that will not break during marine mammal hookings. These gear modification requirements did not take effect until February 27, 2013, a month after the fatal hooking.
“The Fisheries Service dragged its feet for over a decade, requiring three lawsuits before it finally complied with the Marine Mammal Protection Act and issued a plan to address false killer whale deaths in the Hawai‘i-based longline fishery,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, the lead attorney in the lawsuits. “Had the Fisheries Service acted sooner, as Congress intended, this latest tragedy likely could have been avoided.”
According to the Fisheries Service’s latest analysis, longline fishing is killing false killer whales found within 140 kilometers (87 miles) of the main Hawaiian Islands – the “Hawai‘i Insular Stock” – at nearly twice the rate this population can sustain, while false killer whales in Hawaiian waters farther from shore – the “Hawai‘i Pelagic Stock” – are dying at nearly 150 percent of sustainable levels. In November 2012, the Fisheries Service listed the Hawai‘i Insular Stock, which numbers only about 170 animals and has been declining by 9 percent per year since 1989, as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
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Turtle Island Restoration Network is a non-profit environmental
organization committed to the study, protection, enhancement,
conservation, and preservation of the marine environment and the
wildlife that lives within it. TIRN has approximately 60,000 members
and supporters, many of whom reside in the state of Hawai‘i, and has
offices in the United States, Costa Rica, and Papua New Guinea. For more
information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org
Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Mid-Pacific office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai‘i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services. For more information, visit www.earthjustice.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. For more information, visit www.biologicaldiversity.org