WASHINGTON (CN) – Uncle Sam refuses to list the Hawaiian insular population of false killer whales as an endangered species though its once healthy population has “dwindled to only about 150 whales,” the Natural Resources Defense Council claims in Federal Court.
The NRDC sued the Department of Commerce, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and two top officials, claiming the agencies’ inaction violates the Endangered Species and Administrative Procedure Acts.
“We cannot afford to waste another day leaving these endangered whales vulnerable,” Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst for the NRDC’s marine mammal project, said in a statement. “Without federal protection, the whales are facing complete extinction within a generation. That fate is preventable if the Obama Administration acts swiftly.”
The false killer whale is a large toothed whale that lives in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. The insular Hawaiian population is the only false killer whale population known to live in close association with an island system.
“While it was once a healthy population, its numbers have dwindled to only about 150 whales,” the group says in its complaint. “The species has experienced a sharp population decline over the past 20-25 years. The reason for this decline is unknown.”
The NRDC says it petitioned the Fisheries Service to list the whales as endangered in 2009, and the Service determined that the petition “presented substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.” The NMFS found that the whales face a 50 percent probability of being wiped out completely within 75 years, according to the complaint.
“Despite the requirement in the Act that the Secretary issue a final rule regarding its decision to list the population as endangered within one year of the date of the proposed rule (issued November 17, 2010), and despite the high risk of extinction, NMFS has not yet issued a final rule,” according to the complaint. “The whale therefore remains unprotected by the Endangered Species Act.”
The group says the NMFS found 29 threats to the species, including reduced prey from overfishing, injury and mortality from fishing gear, toxic contamination, climate change and noise from sonar and seismic exploration. The threats were outlined in the group’s 2009 petition.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which has more than 2,000 members in Hawaii, wants the court to declare the government’s inaction a violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act because it failed to publish a final decision on the matter. It also wants the court to order a final decision.
The NRDC is represented by Sharon Buccino.