Fisheries Service Sued Over Rare Hawaiian Dolphin

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Dolphins have been under serious threats from many different things like climate change, pollution, and commercial killing. But a specific species of dolphin called the “false killer whale” is seeing drastically lower numbers off the tropical coasts of Hawaii. This prompted an environmental group to file a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Services in hopes to force a final decision on putting these creatures on the endangered species list once and for all.

The false killer whale is not actually a whale at all. They are a large member of the dolphin family just with larger teeth. They live long lives well into their 60’s and are slow to reproduce having only one calf every 6-7 years. Just like humans, females must endure the perils of menopause and have a long post-reproductive period. Because of this, human activities like long line fisheries are causing a slow recovery and thus threatening their populations.

These dolphins love temperate tropical waters and inhabit oceans as such all over the world. But scientists estimate that there are only 150-170 of them left 90 miles off the Hawaiian coasts.  The graph above indicates just how steep the decline in sightings rates have been from 1992-2004.

“The administration’s own scientists found that the whales run a high risk of extinction within 75 years. Every day that this listing is delayed is another day without steps being taken to protect them,” said Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Nearly 18 months ago, The National Marine Fisheries Service had recommended that they be listed as endangered but when the time came, they missed the deadline to make that decision and according to Jasney, they have missed similar deadlines in the past.

A 2010 fisheries service study said these dolphins are at high risk of inbreeding as well as are seriously threatened by long line fishing fleets. The average amount of dolphins being accidently injured or killed by Hawaiian fleets was at 2.5 per year and today it’s at 7.4 dolphins annually. Since false killer whales enjoy the same types of fish that the fisheries are aiming to catch, they find themselves snagged and either suffer serious injuries or die.

Long line fishing vessels string a line up to 50 miles long to catch all sorts of fish. They also run smaller lines with bait hooks to attract the fish. Last year the fisheries service proposed that these practices use a different type of hook to reduce the amount of dolphins being killed. So far, many long line boats have already started to use the circular hooks and are proven safer for by-catch such as sea turtles, dolphins, and exotic fish. Also using any hooks other than stainless steel like Corrodible versions would eventually dissolve. Dolphins can be aggressive feeders in the wild and inhale there food as soon as it reached the tip of their mouth. When using a traditional J hook, dolphins ingest it, which causes gut hooking and can lead to a slow painful death or serious unrecoverable injury. Circle hooks have shown to reduce these types of injuries by up to 50%.

Dolphin interactions with human activities are evidently becoming more and more of an issue. Hopefully a better set of fishing practice regulations can be implemented to help save these amazing animals and others alike.

Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by CC Chapman on Flickr

Angie Tarantino
About Angie Tarantino (148 Posts)

Angie Tarantino is a contributor and part founder of The Environmental Blog. She covers animal rights, green tips and general green news topics She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Follow @EcoChic314

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