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March 3, 2006

Whales Can’t Vote–But We Can

Looking back at February, I have had one thing on my mind – whales. When it comes to these creatures, it has been a time of mixed emotions on the Pacific coast of North America.

This is the exciting season when our friends in California can enjoy watching the gray whales as they migrate north from Baja California, Mexico.  At the same time, there have been a number of mysterious whale deaths on the beaches of Mexico.  Research is being done to find out what caused their deaths. There are many reasons that whales can be hurt or killed. You may be already familiar with some.  One reason is the potential decrease in their food supplies.  Some whales (those with baleen instead of teeth) dine on creatures like krill, a tiny shrimp-like creature. Krill numbers are way down.

Fishing gear also can hurt or kill whales.  Fishing lines, nets, and other gear used in industrial fishing can entangle them, often causing them serious injury, or even death.  Every year, tens of thousands of marine mammals are caught in fishing gear in American waters.

Laws do exist to help protect whales and other marine mammals – dolphins, sea otters, seals – from the commercial fishing industry and these dirty fishing practices.  One such safeguard currently in place is the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

One of the Act’s key requirements is to significantly reduce the number of marine mammals that are seriously injured or killed by commercial fishing gear.  Eleven years ago, Congress set April 2001 as the deadline to reach this goal. This deadline has come and gone, and, yet there are commercial fisheries who have not met this deadline.

Oceana is fighting efforts to weaken the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Whales can’t talk and they can’t vote, but those of us who can need to speak up to keep the Marine Mammal Protection Act strong – particularly its deadlines for reducing marine mammal deaths and injuries in commercial fishing.