Does the Humpback Whale Need a Humpback Sanctuary or Does the Sanctuary Need the Humpback Whale?

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BY WILLIAM E. MOSSMAN – The Public Scoping  period for the recertification of the Hawaii Humpback Whale Sanctuary Plan just ended on October 16, 2010.

It has become a “Hot Button” issue amongst Hawaii’s ocean users because it envisions that the Sanctuary be perpetuated, and even expanded by adding more State waters, despite the fact that the population of the Humpbacks has increased beyond the Federal standards established for its recovery.


Our main concern is that the present sanctuary boundaries were established specifically to enhance the recovery of the Humpback whale.

The proclivities of other species were not a consideration in the design of the sanctuary size and locations.

Therefore we find that the proposed vision plan to retain and expand the sanctuary boundaries to accommodate (yet to be determined) additional species has no rational basis.

Moreover, If the humpback has “graduated” from its sanctuary due to its numbers increasing to the predetermined mandatory  recovery milestones prescribed by the ESA and MMPA, the sanctuary should be discontinued. Then the “Yet to be determined” additional species must be identified and their sanctuary requirements (size, location, etc.) determined.

The “tailor made for Humpbacks” sanctuary might not be a good fit. It could be too big (or small), or not in the right location for whatever the additional specie(s) turns out to be. It appears that NOAA is attempting to convert the single specie humpback whale sanctuary into an “all comers”, “one size fits all” sanctuary without knowing if it is appropriate for whatever specie(s) is selected; or if it is acceptable to the people of Hawaii.

This attempt to retain and even expand the present sanctuary can be likened to a landlord (NOAA) that realizes that his tenant (humpback whale) is going to be leaving, and he is anxiously looking for other tenants (additional species) to keep the sanctuary occupied and the revenue coming in to continue the payroll.

Equally important is the fact that Hawaii, one of the smallest states, has given up (lost) more of its sovereign area to the Federal government than most, if not all of the other states [i.e. Papahanaumokuakea = 140,000 square miles (wikipedia), Humpback Whale Sanctuary = 1,370 square miles, and the many military restricted areas throughout the State].

These are areas that the State of Hawaii has effectively lost control over, and thus relinquished free access and sources of revenue that should be benefitting the Hawaii population.

We are over Federalized in this respect, and must oppose any attempts by the sanctuary to acquire more State waters for a highly questionable sanctuary.

The first, and fundamental requirement for an agency such as the Federal  Humpback Sanctuary to be able to impose new Federal rules/restrictions on citizens within State waters, is for them to be given the jurisdictional authority over a clearly defined area in which State waters have been included with the consent of the Governor.

This “area” in the present Humpback Whale Sanctuary, is made up Federal waters which are designated by Federal agencies and the State waters (0 to 3 miles offshore from each island) contributed by the State Governor.

According to the HIHWNMSanctuary’s “Management  Plan Review Special Edition” in its KOHOLA CONNECTION (summer 2010): “These 1,370 square miles of federal and state waters encompass areas of highest humpback whale density”. And further states that “A compact Agreement between NOAA and the state of Hawaii outlines  how they will work together to protect humpback whales and their habitat. This agreement also requires that the sanctuary periodically evaluate its management plan and regulations, and subsequently re-propose them in their entirety to the state, so they can certify that the terms are still acceptable in state waters.”  (emphasis added)

We are now in the Statewide public information meetings phase of this periodic re-evaluation and review of the Sanctuary Management Plan.

This is the right time for the people of Hawaii (and their elected officials) to make their concerns on the Humpback Sanctuary and its vision plan known. Just a quick glance at the Sanctuary boundaries on a map will show that more than half of the current Humpback Sanctuary’s “area of jurisdiction” is made up of Hawaii State waters.

Should these State waters continue to be part of the federal humpback sanctuary when the humpbacks are well on their way to recovery?

Should more State waters be given to the federal sanctuary without a lot more clarification and justification on exactly how it would be used??

The Hawaii Humpback Whale Sanctuary has been successful. The Humpbacks have reached, and are expected to exceed, their population goals. In that this sanctuary is a single species sanctuary, it should now be closed.

Failure to do this will generate great public distrust of NOAA and the State DLNR for reneging on a bonafide commitment and trying to unilaterally retain the sanctuary for purposes that have not been clearly established nor publicly reviewed and approved by the citizens of Hawaii.

NOAA or the citizens of the “other 49” (states) should not be allowed to dictate how the State of Hawaii uses its State waters.

If there are species worthy of a Hawaii sanctuary, let’s hear the justification, and if warranted, the process of establishing a sanctuary designed to accommodate the recovery needs of those specific species should be examined.

We strongly oppose this proposal to indiscriminately keep the Humpback Sanctuary open by gathering additional species to move in just to fill the vacancy created by the recovery of the Humpback Whale.