Author Archives: ROARhawaii

NOAA seeks protections for dolphins

Many residents and visitors of Hawaiʻi enjoy encounters with wild spinner dolphins in the sandy bays of the islands.  What some aren’t aware of is that these pods of dolphins, even though they seem to be awake and playful, are actually resting.  Spinner dolphins are nocturnal, foraging in deep offshore waters for fish and small crustaceans and resting in nearshore sandy bays during the day.

With an increase in marine tourism and coastal populations in Hawaiʻi, the pressure on these animals is also increasing, possibly effecting the dolphin’s health and behaviors.  NOAA is seeking new regulations on swimming with wild spinner dolphins to alleviate some of the stress.  These regulations are expected to be proposed in June.

For the full story, visit the Honolulu Star Advertiser here.

Hawaiʻi Island Community Members Critical to Transporting 1,300-Pound Stranded, Endangered Whale

For Immediate News Release December 18, 2015


People urged to report strandings immediately

HAWAI‘I ISLAND – Scientists are applauding the efforts of a Hawaii Island resident and an education specialist from the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) for their efforts to transport a 1,300-pound endangered false killer whale from Hawai‘i Island to Oahu.

By recovering the whale’s body, researchers are given the opportunity to determine the cause of death, which can help protect the species in the future.

In early November, resident Rodney Kuahiwinui sighted a dead whale at South Point near Kau and immediately called John Kahiapo from DAR.

Through text messages that included pictures of the whale, marine mammal experts were able to identify the animal as a highly endangered false killer whale.

Kau is one the most remote areas in the state, with many sections that are hard to access. Fortunately, Kuahiwinui raises cattle on Hawaiian Home Lands and owns the heavy equipment needed to transport the whale. Using an engine hoist, he was able to lift the animal and place it onto his flatbed truck. With his family, he made the 4-hour journey to Kona where the animal was transported by Transair to Honolulu for examination.

Scientists were able to determine that the adult female, first documented in 2004 and re-sighted eight times near Oahu and Hawai‘i Island, died from abnormal blood clot formations in the heart and lungs.

“Without the unwavering efforts of Rodney and John, we would not have been able to find out why this animal died,” said Dr. Kristi West, head of Hawaii Pacific University’s stranding program.  “From my perspective, they really are heroes.”

Only three Hawaiian false killer whales have been reported stranded in the past 18 years. “With less than 200 individuals alive today, every piece of information is critical,” says Dr. West. “If we want to understand the threats facing these animals, we need the public’s help.”

People asked to call 1-888-256-9840 or local authorities immediately if they observe a dolphin or whale stranded on the beach or unusually close to shore.

Hawaii Pacific University typically responds to 20 strandings of whales and dolphins per year in the Hawaiian Islands. Approximately 20% of all reported cetacean strandings in the main Hawaiian Islands represent endangered whales.

“Today we are fortunate enough to see whales traveling in the area,” said Rodney. “We have to do everything we can to help make sure they are still here for future generations.”

DLNR was recently awarded nearly $1.2 million from the federal government to support the conservation and recovery of Hawai‘i’s endangered false filler whales.

Species in the Spotlight: Hawaiian Monk Seal

NOAA Fisheries highlights Hawaiian monk seal as one of the “Species in the Spotlight.”

The Hawaiian monk seal is endemic to Hawaii, meaning they are native and not found anywhere else in the world.  Only about 1,100 seals are left and their population is still declining.  Hawaiian monk seals face threats that include food limitations in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, entanglement in marine debris and human interactions, especially in the main Hawaiian Islands.

With more than 30 years of research and management experience, NOAA Fisheries and partners are currently working across the archipelago to address the population decline.  Saving the species starts with individual seals.  because of their value to the population growth potential, many monk seal recovery efforts focus on young and reproductive females.

To learn more visit Species in the Spotlight.



New Hawaiian Monk Seal Critical Habitat Rule Supports State Role in Protecting Endangered Native Species

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is pleased that NOAA has incorporated state input into the new rules aimed at further protection for the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal by focusing protection on areas most important for foraging, pupping and resting.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently finalized the rule that identifies coastal areas in the Main Hawaiian Islands as critical habitat.  Critical habitat helps manage federal activities to avoid habitat destruction.  Most fishermen and ocean users will not be impacted by this designation.  Critical habitat is an important tool in the larger effort to recover this valued native species, found nowhere else in the world.

Activities that could be impacted include federally authorized, funded or carried out activities such as beach replenishment, coastal development and channel/harbor dredging.  Activities not likely to be impacted are non-Federal activities on public land or water such as beach and ocean recreation, along with shoreline and net fishing within state waters. This designation does not set up a refuge or preserve.

Here Is How We Save the Hawaiian Monk Seal

Civil Beat – February 14, 2015 – by Trisha Kehaulani Watson


They are a source of delight as they frolic in the water or snooze on the beach and a source of controversy when they steal bait from a fisherman’s hook. But there is no controversy over the fact that Hawaiian monk seals are one of the most critically endangered marine mammals on the planet.

Concerted federal, state and community efforts are all needed to save this iconic species – and the official state mammal of Hawaii. Unfortunately, recovery efforts remain hampered by insufficient budgets, inadequate government coordination and transparency, and by pockets of community opposition based on misunderstanding and myth.

A new study by the Marine Conservation Institute, done with the help of local firm Honua Consulting, provides guidance on how recovery efforts can be improved in Hawaii to the benefit of both the species and the community.

With an estimated population of 900 to 1,100 animals, the Hawaiian monk seal is one of the three most endangered seals on earth and the most endangered in the United States. It’s the last surviving member of its biological genus. The fate of the seal, which lives only in Hawaii, depends primarily on how effectively NOAA Fisheries and its partners — the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and interested nonprofits — implement the federal recovery program for the seal.

The study takes a detailed look at the recovery program and makes recommendations for how it can be improved. While it is a great success that the current program is estimated to have been responsible for the lives of almost one-third of the current population, it is also true that the population is declining by 3 to 4 percent annually and would be halved in 20 years, down to around 500 individuals, unless the decline is reversed and the population rebuilds.

The report illustrates how a lack of commitment to community education and outreach programs in the main Hawaiian Islands, along with a lack of efficient coordination between agencies, is contributing to the slide toward extinction.

“If NOAA wants to reverse the long decline of this iconic species, it is going to have to be more aggressive,” said Dr. Lance Morgan, president of the Marine Conservation Institute. “This means NOAA will have to increase its budget for the seal, focus program management on tangible objectives that keep seals alive, and organize more help from other federal and state agencies and nonprofits.”

The challenge of rebuilding monk seal populations is truly one conducted on two fronts: the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the main Hawaiian Islands. Both have unique challenges.

In the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where most seals live and the population continues to decline, the problems have been malnutrition, disease, marine debris entanglement, predation, other environmental changes and the difficulty of doing conservation work in such a remote location. In the future, climate change may make things worse out there too.

It’s in the main Hawaiian Islands, where the seal population is growing, that nonprofits, community groups and engaged citizens can provide the most support. The growing presence of seals has delighted many tourists and conservationists, but it has also stirred the ire of some fisherman and ocean users who fear the seals will be used as motivation to increase federal regulations and criminalize unintended interactions with seals, like accidental hooking on fishing lines.

Friends of the monk seal all over Hawaii hope that the new governor and new leadership at DLNR will redouble the state’s efforts, and commitment, to the species and develop strong interagency partnerships.

In President Obama’s newest proposed budget, there is a large increase in federal funding for state efforts to recover endangered species. Our hope is that Hawaii will capture some of that increase to work on the monk seal recovery program. Despite years of federal funding to DLNR for monk seal work, the impact of that money remains unclear. The new report suggests tangible and effective tasks the state could take on, especially those that involve community outreach efforts.

Education and community outreach programs are badly needed to get community buy-in for the monk seals.

To succeed, community outreach must be sustained to build trust based on actions and help solve problems that the community says it has with the species or area in question. These community programs must be locally driven if they are to build the levels of trust and co-existence needed to successfully contribute to meeting conservation goals.

The Marine Conservation Institute report on saving the Hawaiian monk seal gives us a roadmap for achieving success — a sustainable population. That success is achievable only if the federal and state governments work with local communities and redouble their efforts to save the state’s official marine mammal. If Hawaii values this species, it must take the report’s recommendations seriously and work swiftly to implement them.

Report author William Chandler notes, “If we lose the battle to save the Hawaiian monk seal, we’ll have only ourselves to blame.”

He’s absolutely correct.