Dolphin species might make endangered list


POSTED: Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A small population of dolphins that live near Hawaii and resemble killer whales could be placed on the endangered species list, a federal agency said yesterday.

Such an action could affect Hawaii-based longline fishing boats, which have accidentally snagged the dolphins — called false killer whales — in the past.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, filed a petition last year asking that Hawaii's near-shore population of false killer whales be listed.

The group cited evidence showing the dolphins can be injured and killed after getting caught in fishing gear. The animals also have less to eat because stocks of the fish they prey on — including tuna and mahimahi — have been declining due to overfishing, the group said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service responded with a Federal Register filing yesterday, saying that the petition included substantial information indicating a listing may be warranted.

The agency said it will accept public comments through Feb. 4.

The dolphins can grow as long as 16 feet and weigh more than 1 ton. They resemble killer whales but are almost completely black instead of black and white.

They are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide, including Maryland, Japan, Australia and Scotland. But scientists estimate only about 120 live in waters up to 60 miles off Hawaii's coasts. A few hundred more false killer whales live close to Hawaii in waters farther out.

Lance Smith, an endangered species biologist with the Pacific Islands Regional Office of the agency, said scientists would examine whether the “;insular”; stock of Hawaii false killer whales is a distinct population of animals under the endangered species act.

If so, the scientists would evaluate whether this population meets the criteria for a threatened or endangered species.

“;It's a very detailed, scientific analysis,”; Smith said.