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False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens)

Status | Taxonomy | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution |
Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview |
Key Documents | More Info

  false killer whale. (c) robin baird.
False Killer Whale
(Pseudorca crassidens)
Photo: © Robin Baird. Courtesy Cascadia Research. MMPA Scientific Research Permit No. 731


 

Status
ESA Endangered - Main Hawaiian Islands Insular
MMPA Depleted - Main Hawaiian Islands Insular
MMPA - All false killer whales, like all marine mammals, are protected under the MMPA.
CITES Appendix II - throughout its range

Taxonomy
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Pseudorca
Species: crassidens

Species Description
Weight: about 1,500 pounds (700 kg)
Length: females: 15 feet (4.5 m)
males: 20 feet (6 m)
Appearance: 

dark coloration except for some lighter patches near the throat and middle chest

Lifespan: about 60 years
Diet: fishes and cephalopods
Behavior: they form strong social bonds, usually found in groups of 10-20; they are known to "strand" in large groups as well; they are also found with other cetaceans, most notably bottlenose dolphins

False killer whales are large members of the dolphin family. Females reach lengths of 15 feet (4.5 m), while males are almost 20 feet (6 m). In adulthood, false killer whales can weigh approximately 1,500 pounds (700 kg).

They have a small conical head without a beak. Their dorsal fin is tall and their flippers (pectoral fins) have a distinctive hump or bulge in the middle of the front edge. False killer whales have dark coloration except for some lighter patches near the throat and middle chest. Their body shape is more slender than other large delphinids.

False killer whales' breeding season lasts several months. Gestation periods range from 14 to 16 months and lactation occurs for one and a half to two years. False killer whales have low reproduction rates with calving intervals of approximately seven years. Maturity occurs at around 12 years of age and maximum longevity is 63 years.

These whales are gregarious and form strong social bonds. They are usually found in groups of ten to twenty that belong to much larger groups of up to 40 individuals in Hawai'i and 100 individuals elsewhere. They are known to "strand" in large groups as well. False killer whales are also found with other cetaceans, most notably bottlenose dolphins. To increase success of finding prey, these whales travel in a broad band that can be up to several miles wide.

Food sharing has been documented between individual false killer whales. They feed during the day and at night on fishes and cephalopods, and they are known to attack smaller dolphins that are involved in the tuna purse-seine fishery in the Pacific Ocean.

Habitat
They prefer tropical to temperate waters that are deeper than 3,300 feet (1000 m).

 
false killer whale range map
False Killer Whale Range Map
(click for larger view PDF)


Distribution
False killer whales occur in the U.S. in Hawaii, along the entire West Coast, and from the Mid-Atlantic coastal states south. The species can also be found in all tropical and temperate oceans worldwide.

Population Trends
The current estimates for the Hawaiian/Pacific Islands stock and the Northern Gulf of Mexico stocks can be found in the latest marine mammal stock assessment reports.

Threats

  • bycatch and other fishery interactions, such as the Hawaii Longline fishery and bottomfish fishery off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
  • hunting in Indonesia, Japan, and the West Indies

Conservation Efforts
False killer whales are classified as Lower Risk - Conservation Dependent on the IUCN Redlist This link is an external site.. NMFS funds several research studies This link is an external site. on life history and stock structure of false killer whales in Hawaii.

In January 2010, NMFS established a Take Reduction Team to reduce bycatch of Hawaiian false killer whales in longline fisheries. In November 2012, NMFS published a final Take Reduction Plan, based on the Take Reduction Team's recommendations.

Regulatory Overview
This species is listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2010, NMFS initiated a status review in response to a petition to list the Main Hawaiian islands insular population of Hawaiian false killer whales as an endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS published the final status review of the Main Hawaiian islands insular population in August 2010. And, in November 2010, NMFS proposed to list the Main Hawaiian islands insular false killer whale as endangered under the ESA. In November 2012, NMFS published a final rule to list the Main Hawaiian islands insular false killer whale as endangered under the ESA.

Key Documents
(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date

Final Rule to Implement the False Killer Whale Take Reduction Plan

77 FR 71260 11/29/2012
Final rule to list the Main Hawaiian islands insular false killer whale DPS as endangered under the Endangered Species Act 77 FR 70915 11/28/2012
Proposed Rule to Implement the False Killer Whale Take Reduction Plan 76 FR 42082 07/18/2011

NMFS proposes to list the Main Hawaiian islands insular false killer whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act

75 FR 70169 11/17/2010
Status Review of the Main Hawaiian Islands Insular Population False Killer Whales   08/2010
NOAA Establishes Take Reduction Team to Reduce Bycatch of Hawaiian False Killer Whales in Longline Fisheries 75 FR 2853 01/19/2010
NMFS Initiates Status Review of the Main Hawaiian islands Insular Population of Hawaiian False Killer Whales as an Endangered Species (90-Day Finding on Petition) 75 FR 316 01/05/2010
Petition to List the Main Hawaiian Islands Insular Population of Hawaiian False Killer Whales under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) n/a 09/30/2009
Stock Assessment Reports n/a various

More Information

Updated: August 14, 2013

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