FKW POPs: Since 2012, the Main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales has been on the federal endangered species list. For even longer, the whales have been known to suffer serious injury and even death from interactions with fishing gear. Lack or shortages of prey species have been another factor suspected to contribute to the rapid decline of this population over the last three decades.
Finally, as top predators, the animals are threatened by harmful, long-lived pollutants that cannot be metabolized but rather bioaccumuate in their fatty tissue. A recent paper published in Science of the Total Environment adds substantially to what is known about just how much these persistent organic pollutants – POPs – have ended up in the whales and how they have the potential to disrupt the animals’ social structure and ability to reproduce. (See “Life history and social structure as drivers of persistent organic pollutant levels and stable isotopes in Hawaiian false killer whales,” by Michaela Kratofil, Gina Ylitalo, Sabre Ma- haffy, Kristi West, and Robin Baird.)
The authors looked at more than 100 samples of blubber and skin taken from animals in all three populations in Hawaiian waters – the Main Hawaiian Islands population, that of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the pelagic population. The samples were then analyzed for the presence of 79 POPs, including DDT, PCBs, dieldrin, aldrin, heptachlor, chlordane, and other related contaminants. Four of the samples from stranded whales revealed PCB concentrations that were practically off the charts, with the lowest concentration measured, 43,000 nanograms per gram, more than twice the highest suggested health threshold for PCBs. The highest concentration was 110,000 nanograms/gram.
Females that have given birth have lower levels than adult males, since they are able to pass on much of their load of contaminants to nursing offspring. Females that are not known to have given birth had much higher levels, as did sub-adults and juveniles of both sexes.
Analysis of the samples by the clusters to which the MHI whales are known to belong allowed the authors to link the relative levels of contaminants to their likely foraging areas. For example, high levels of agricultural pesticides measured in one cluster could be linked to their habituation of areas off eastern O ‘ahu, Moloka ‘i, Lana ‘i, and western Maui, including areas where pineapple was the primary agricultural crop and heptachlor and related chemicals were heavily applied for decades.
The authors suggest that work be done to assess the long-term effects of these chemicals on the health of the false killer whale populations. They write, “given the longevity of this species …, we recommend incorporating the risk of POPs and potential adverse health effects associated with them into management of all three false killer whale populations when considering their long-term viability.”
Hu Honua on Pause: More than a year ago, the state Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Public Utilities Commission and, as Life of the Land had requested, found that the agency had failed to consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions by the Hu Honua biomass power plant being built on the Hamakua Coast just north of Hilo. The commission was instructed to reconsider its approval of the power purchase agreement between Hu Honua and Hawaiian Electric, this time weighing the plant’s greenhouse gas contributions.
As of mid-June, the PUC had not yet established a hearing schedule and informed the company that it is reviewing all of the current renewable energy projects before it.
In May and again in June, Hu Honua wrote the commission, requesting that it “establish a reasonable procedural schedule for the remainder of this proceeding at the earliest.”
Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, asked the commission to strike Hu Honua’s letters from the record, arguing that they included erroneous claims.
“Even if all discretionary permits were issued this year,” he wrote, “Hu Honua could not become operational this year, since they are fighting a legal requirement” with Hawai ‘i County not yet having issued a permit that will allow the company to use part of its leased land for a truck scale and storage of the logs it intends to burn.
Hu Honua’s attorney Bradley Dixon countered that the matter has no impact on the company’s operational ability. “These uses on the adjacent parcel are being sought by Hu Honua to improve the efficiency of Hu Honua’s operations, but they are not required,” Dixon stated. He added that Hu Honua believes that these uses do not require an amendment to its special management area use permit or special permits.
The PUC had not replied to either party by late June.