Hawaiian insular population of false killer whales listed as Endangered

False Killer whale and Calf © Robin W. Baird/www.cascadiaresearch.org

On November 28th, 2012 the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service officially listed a distinct population segment of false killer whales around the main Hawaiian Islands as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This population, termed the Hawaiian insular population, inhabits the area around the main Hawaiian Islands, and is genetically differentiated from surrounding populations. Current abundance of the population is estimated at about 150 individuals, and there is evidence the population declined from more than 500 individuals in the 1980s. The population faces a number of threats, including bycatch in fisheries, ingestion of hooked fish, reduction of prey availability, high levels of persistent organic pollutants, and potentially retaliatory shooting by fishermen due to depredation of catch. The listing was in response to a petition submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council in November 2010. More information on this listing can be found at http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_false_killer_whale.html and on research on this population at http://www.cascadiaresearch.org/hawaii/Falsekillerwhale.htm

Redlisting of Mediterranean cetacean populations

Given their sheer number, assessing all geographic populations of cetaceans (sub-populations, in Red List-speak) is a long-term challenge; only a small fraction have been assessed, with priority given to those suspected of being in the most trouble. Two regions where relatively good progress has been made in recent years are the Mediterranean and Black Seas thanks to a joint effort by ACCOBAMS (the CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Contiguous Atlantic Area) and the Cetacean Specialist Group.

The first subpopulation in the region to have been assessed formally under the modern quantitative Red List categories and criteria was the Mediterranean short-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus delphis, which was redlisted in 2003 as Endangered (A2abc).  The assessment was drafted by Giovanni Bearzi, who had become especially motivated when he witnessed the almost complete disappearance of the species from one of his study areas, off western Greece, likely as a result of prey depletion due to overfishing.

In 2008, the assessment produced by Alexei Birkun, Jr. and Alexandros Frantzis of Black Sea harbour porpoises, Phocoena phocoena relicta, was finalised.  This subspecies is found in the Black Sea and also occurs in the Marmara Sea and in portions of the Aegean Sea, well inside the Mediterranean. Harbour porpoises in the Black Sea were subjected to very large legal direct takes until 1983, and to continued illegal hunting until at least 1991. They still suffer from extensive incidental mortality in bottom-set gillnets. This history of heavy exploitation, together with ongoing threats, led the subspecies to be redlisted as Endangered (A1d+4cde).

In 2012, several additional Mediterranean sub-population assessments were published, namely:

  • sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus, listed as Endangered (C2a(ii)), assessed by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Alexandros Frantzis, Giovanni Bearzi and Randall R. Reeves;
  • fin whales, Balaenoptera physalus, listed as Vulnerable (C2a(ii)), assessed by Simone Panigada and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara;
  • striped dolphins, Stenella coeruleoalba, listed as Vulnerable (A2bcde), assessed by Alex Aguilar and StefaniaGaspari;
  • common bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, listed as Vulnerable (A2cde), assessed by Giovanni Bearzi, Caterina Fortuna, and Randall R. Reeves;
  • Cuvier’s beaked whales, Ziphius cavirostris, listed as Data Deficient, assessed by Ana Cañadas;
  • long-finned pilot whales Globicephala melas, listed as Data Deficient, assessed by Ana Cañadas; and
  • Risso’s dolphins Grampus griseus, listed as Data Deficient, assessed by Stefania Gaspari and Ana Natoli.

Assessment of the Gibraltar subpopulation of Orcinus orca is not yet completed.

Conservation of cetaceans and manatees in Western Africa

A new publication on cetaceans and manatees in the Western African region has just been published by CMS. The publication is a compilation of articles presented at the scientific symposium ‘Western African Talks on Cetaceans and their Habitats (WATCH)’ held in Adeje, Tenerife in 2007. The document includes detailed information on marine mammals of the African eastern Atlantic basin, a region from which cetaceans are poorly known.

At the same meeting a ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Small Cetaceans and Manatees of West Africa’ was developed. The signatory Governments agreed ‘to work closely together in the region and to foster cooperation, build capacity and ensure coordinated region-wide actions to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status for manatees and small cetaceans and their habitats and to safeguard the associated values of these species for the people of the region’.

An ‘Action Plan for the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia’ was also developed at the scientific symposium. The Action Plan attempts to balance the interests of local communities and fishermen and the socio-economic development of the region, with the need to reduce or eliminate threats to cetaceans and their habitats in order to ensure their conservation.

The scientific symposium, MoU, Action Plan have brought much needed attention to the assessment and conservation of the small-cetacean fauna of the eastern tropical Atlantic.

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