WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The dwindling population of a whale in Hawaiian waters has led the Obama administration to propose classifying the species as endangered, environmentalists say.
The Hawaiian false killer whale has a small and ecologically important population that has suffered a significant decline over the last 25 years and only 150 of the animals may be left, a Natural Resources Defense Council release said Wednesday.
"The whales are losing their food, getting hooked on fishing lines and accumulating toxins at a rate that threatens their survival," Michael Jasny of the NRDC's Marine Mammal Project said.
"Protecting them will go a long way towards protecting the extraordinary marine environment of the Hawaiian Islands," he said.
Hawaiian false killer whales are large members of the dolphin family that can weigh up to 1,500 pounds.
Females can grow up to 15 feet and males can reach 20 feet.
The administration's decision comes one year after NRDC submitted a formal scientific petition to list the population.
If approved, the Hawaiian false killer whale would become only the fourth U.S. whale or dolphin population to be placed on the endangered species list since 1970.
Listing the whales as an endangered species would require the government to identify critical habitat for the population, ensure activities do not jeopardize its survival, and prepare a "recovery plan" to bring it back from endangered status, the NRDC said.