On July 24, 2018, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published a final rule to designate critical habitat for the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) insular false killer whale distinct population segment (DPS). The critical habitat encompasses waters from 45-meter depth contour to the 3,200-meter depth contour around the main Hawaiian Islands, with 14 areas excluded from designation based on economic or national security impacts.

Critical habitat is a designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and is defined as an area that contains habitat features that are essential for the conservation of a species that is listed under the ESA. The MHI insular false killer whale DPS was listed under the ESA as “endangered” in 2012. In the critical habitat final rule, NMFS identified “island-associated marine habitat for MHI insular false killer whales” as the essential feature, which includes the following habitat characteristics to support insular false killer whale’s ability to travel, forage, communicate, and move freely around and among the waters surrounding the MHI:

(1) Adequate space for movement and use within shelf and slope habitat;

(2) Prey species of sufficient quantity, quality, and availability to support individual growth, reproduction, and development, as well as overall population growth;

(3) Waters free of pollutants of a type and amount harmful to main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whales; and

(4) Sound levels that would not significantly impair false killer whales’ use or occupancy.

Read the full Federal Register notice here.

Supporting documents for the final rule, including the critical habitat map, final Biological Report and Economic Report, are available on the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office website at: http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_mhi_false_killer_whale.html#critical_habitat