Also too many green sea turtles.
Senator Malama Solomon says both species are so plentiful that they are posing a threat to the fishing industry.
She's called on the US Government to remove humpback whales and green sea turtles from the endangered list.
Environment group Earthjustice is opposed to Senator Solomon's position.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: David Henkin, staff attorney, Earthjustice, Hawaii
HENKIN: First of all, I think the whole way that the issue has been framed is somewhat surreal. We're dealing with two species that historically have been at the brink of extinction and if there are more of them in Hawaiian waters, that should be a cause for celebration, not a cause for consternation. We're talking here about Senator Malama Solomon, who is the chair of our state senate's Water and Land Committee and her ignorance of the basis of federal environmental law is somewhat frightening really in that context. As Senator Solomon should be aware there are provisions in our Federal Endangered Species Act to allow for, what's called the incidental take, in otherwords, the unintentional harming of federally listed species. There's processes for that to happen. Commercial fishing industry has, in fact, secured authorisation under the federal law to have interactions with both Humpback whales and Green Sea Turtles, so fundamentally, there is nothing broken with the system. If there are more turtles and whales in our waters, it just proves that it's working.
EWART: So do you believe that the case the Senator is putting forward is somewhat exaggerating and she says there's a threat to the fishing industry?
HENKIN: Yeah, that's there's no basis for that at all. Of course, as your listeners may not be aware, it's an election year here and it's very common to hear that type of alarmist rhetoric, that sort of populous rhetoric, but ultimately, decisions about the management of our Humpback whales and decisions about the management of Green Sea Turtles, it's supposed to be based on science, not politics.
EWART: And, of course, the Humpback Whales in particular, are a great draw for tourists in the waters around Hawaii. So if you take them of the endangered list, you potentially put the tourism industry at risk?
HENKIN: Oh, no question. Both Humpback Whales and Green Sea Turtles are a huge tourist draw. They bring in millions-of-dollars to our tourist industry. People come here to see them and so we wouldn't want to endanger that, and equally importantly, we're talking about the continued existence of species, that were here long before humans arrived and to which native Hawaiian peoples have strong cultural and spiritual relationships and so both on the economic front and on the non-economic front, these are species that, again, they're success is something we should celebrate, not criticise.
EWART: Are you aware that there have been any complaints raised by the fishing industry on this matter? Are they in agreement with Senator Solomon?
HENKIN: Well, of course, the fishing industry would like to be free of any regulation and would like to able to do whatever they want and so these efforts to delist these species have been supported by, in particular, our long line industry, which does have frequent interactions with Green Sea Turtles and occasional interaction with Humpback Whales, but just because they find it a little bit inconvenient to take necessary measure to minimise the harm the species doesn't mean that we should abandon efforts, to make sure that these species can continue to exist in our waters and hopefully, increase in their numbers and at some point in the future, if they've gotten to a place where they are fully recovered and no longer need the protection of the law, then that decision should be made based in science.
EWART: What sort of feedback, if any, has there been from Washington? Has there been any interest shown in what Senator Solomon is pressing for?
HENKIN: Well, with respect to both of these species, petitions were presented to our National Marine Fisheries Service, asking that the species be delisted and in both cases, the way the law works, you just take a look at the four corners of that petition and you say is there enough inside of that petition that it's worth doing a further inquiry. And in both cases, the Fishery Service said yes, we'll take a further inquiry and we'll go out to independent scientists and canvas the best available scientific information to come up with a decision as to whether or not continued production is needed or if delisting is appropriate and they haven't made a decision yet.
So in the meantime, the species remain protected and again, the fact that their numbers have increased from the brink of extinction to where they are more plentiful in our waters, just shows that the Endangered Species Act works.