Peudorca crassidens

Finally, following the filing of a lawsuit in June by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has been prodded into taking action to protect false killer whales in Hawaiian waters. The agency has agreed to implement protective standards by Nov. 30 of this year.

The delay has been a costly one for the false killer whales, which are actually a species of large porpoise. For more than 10 years, NMFS has tracked the killing of these marine mammals–the latest data, released in August, shows an average of more than 13 deaths a year–by the Hawaii based longline fishery. This depletion rate is nearly 50 percent higher than the population’s ability to reproduce and sustain its numbers. The population has been declining by nine percent every year since 1989.

“This case vividly illustrates why it is vital for citizens to be able to access the courts to hold government agencies accountable,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “Without citizen suits, the agency may well have dragged its feet until it was too late to save these unique marine mammals.”

Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island, noted the broader pelagic implications of agency delay. “In Hawaiian waters and around the world, longline fisheries are indiscriminately killing untold numbers of marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and other sensitive species,” Steiner said, adding that, “The Fisheries Service needs to issue rules that prioritize species protection over commercial exploitation.”