US issues rule protecting habitat for false killer whales

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Kina, a false killer whale, at Sea Life Park in Waimanalo, Hawaii. (Caleb Jones, AP, File)
Kina, a false killer whale, at Sea Life Park in Waimanalo, Hawaii. (Caleb Jones, AP, File)

A federal agency will designate waters around Hawaii as protected critical habitat for endangered false killer whales.

About 45 300km2 of ocean habitat will be protected under a new rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. The rule was published on Tuesday in the Federal Register and goes into effect on August 23.

The waters around the state host about 150 false killer whales, which are actually members of the dolphin family. The Centre for Biological Diversity has been advocating for the protection of the species.

"It's a very good day for the false killer whales," said Brett Hartl, the centre's government affairs director. "Getting critical habitat is a very important step, and a very useful tool to help get a species on the path to recovery. This is progress, and now we need to keep moving forward, and make sure we do what needs to be done to protect the false killer whale and its habitat from harm."

The protected habitat covers ocean from Niihau to the Big Island, including depths of 45 to 3 200m.

The rule excludes 14 areas, including 13 sites requested by the US Navy and one area requested by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

"What they've done is probably not exactly what we hoped for, but I think at the end of the day, the critical habitat that the false killer whale receives is a huge step in the right direction," Hartl said.

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