Approach Regulations for Humpback Whales in Waters Surrounding the Islands of Hawaii Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
We, NOAA Fisheries, are issuing regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to prevent take by protecting humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) from the detrimental effects resulting from approach by humans within 200 nautical miles (370.4 kilometers) of the islands of Hawaii. These regulations are necessary because existing regulations promulgated under the Endangered Species Act protecting humpback whales from approach in Hawaii will no longer be in effect upon the effective date of a final rule published elsewhere in today's issue of the Federal Register that separates humpback whales into 14 Distinct Population Segments and identifies the “Hawaii DPS” as neither endangered nor threatened. These MMPA regulations prohibit operating an aircraft within 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) of a humpback whale, approaching within 100 yards (91.4 meters) of a humpback whale by any means, causing a vessel, person or other object to approach within 100 yards (91.4 meters) of a humpback whale, or approaching a humpback whale by interception (i.e., placing an aircraft, vessel, person, or other object in the path of a humpback whale so that the whale approaches within a restricted distance). The regulations also prohibit the disruption of normal behavior or prior activity of a humpback whale by any act or omission. Certain vessels and activities are exempt from the prohibition. NOAA Fisheries finds that there is good cause to waive public notice and comment prior to implementation of these regulations in order to avoid a gap in protections for the whales. However, we are requesting comments on the regulations and Environmental Assessment; NOAA Fisheries will subsequently publish a final rule with responses to comments and any revisions, if appropriate.