Critical habitat in Hawaii proposed for false killer whales

  • Courtesy Cascadia Research Collective

    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries is proposing a new critical-habitat designation for the main Hawaiian Islands’ population of false killer whales.

LIHUE — The federal government wants to designate critical habitat for the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales.

The rule proposal, published Friday by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in the Federal Register, creates a critical-habitat zone around the Main Hawaiian Islands, from west of Niihau east to Hawaii, in water depths from 45-meters to 3,200 meters.

“This proposed rule is based on the best scientific information available concerning the range, biology, habitat and threats to the habitat of this distinct population segment (DPS),” NOAA Fisheries said in a draft proposal. “We have reviewed the information and have used it to identify the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of this DPS.”

Much of that science was done by Robin Baird and his team with Cascadia Research, which has spent many hours circumventing the Main Hawaiian Islands documenting the unique populations of false killer whales.

The proposed designation won’t affect whale- and dolphin-watching activities or nearshore fisheries, he said.

Designating an area as critical habitat means that federal agencies have to get permission to do projects in the area, though the U.S. Navy and Pacific Missile Range Facility’s offshore ranges are exempt from the rule.

Gordon LaBedz, of Kauai’s whale conservation group Kohola Leo, said he thinks the proposal is a nice public-relations move, but isn’t going to do much in the long run for species conservation and rehabilitation.

“It only applies to federal, non-military government agencies,” LaBedz said. “It would be significant if the false killer whales were protected from Navy explosions and sonar, but as such, the whales won’t notice any difference with a critical habitat designation.”

Baird said, in theory, Navy activities would receive more scrutiny as a result of the proposed rule.

A public hearing on the potential rule is scheduled on Oahu for Dec. 7, and a 60-day comment period is open through Jan. 2, 2018.

Interested people can comment electronically via the Federal Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0093, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach comments.

Via mail, submit comments to: Susan Pultz, Chief, Conservation Planning and Rulemaking Branch, Protected Resources Division, National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Regional Office, 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818, Attn: MHI IFKW Critical Habitat Proposed Rule.

View the proposed rule changes: www.federalregister.gov/douments/2017/11/03/2017-23978/endangered-and-threatened-species-designate-critical-habitat-for-the-main-hawaiian-islands-insular.

More info: Pultz, 808-725-5150, or Lisa Manning, 301-427-8466

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