Thankful for Whales, Not Congress

Each year at Thanksgiving, my family goes around the table and before we feast, we say what we are most thankful for. This year, I’m thankful for whales, not Congress.

Congress isn’t making my list because any day now, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that is being called the “SECURE American Energy Act.” This toxic piece of legislation offered by Republicans on the House Committee on Natural Resources would remove crucial protections for marine mammals. The bill has already made it through the Committee. The bill would gut important pieces of ocean protection law and core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law that I rely on almost every day in my job as a marine mammal attorney for NRDC.

Credit: Holly Fearnbach, NOAA

I live in the Pacific Northwest, and here—in the rich, wild waters off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California—roam a band of majestic killer whales.

The locals and researchers who study the Southern Resident killer whales know each one. There are only 76 of these orcas left, and they travel and hunt in matriarchal family pods. When J28 (Polaris) died last year, a whole community in and out of the water mourned as her young calf J54 (Dipper) struggled to survive and, ultimately, died too. In J54’s final hours, his older sibling J46 (Star) was seen pushing him to the surface, trying desperately to help her little brother breathe.

Southern Resident L103 with calf L123

Center for Whale Research, Photos taken under Federal Permits NMFS 15569 / DFO SARA 388

This family of whales was once hunted to near extinction by marine parks for shows and aquariums. Today, we no longer capture these whales for display, but the population still has a 25 percent chance of going extinct in the next 100 years. That’s because the whales are starving to death.

Although the whales are visibly thin, with ribs showing and sunken pockets behind their eyes, the salmon they find, they share. The researchers who study these orcas have observed them dividing an individual fish. They have witnessed orcas bringing fish to a struggling pod-mate.

Now is not the moment to walk back protections for Southern Resident killer whales. Or for any other marine mammals. But Congress could do just that.

Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972—bipartisan legislation signed by President Nixon—and recognized that human activities were threatening marine mammals at alarming rates.  Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted 45 years ago, no species of marine mammals has gone extinct in U.S. waters. The SECURE American Energy Act would remove those important protections and pave the way for more industrial activity in the waters that some of our most treasured and endangered dolphins and whales call home.

In times of great adversity and sadness, the Southern Residents work together. They share, they cooperate, and they look out for each other. We have a lot to learn from these gentle giants.

We can start by banding together to fight the SECURE American Energy Act.

Please demand that your representatives strongly oppose any legislation that guts the Marine Mammal Protection Act. You can sign our petition here; and you can go here to find the office number of your Congressional representative and give them a call.

Save the MMPA!

About the Authors

Giulia C.S. Good Stefani

Attorney, Marine Mammal and Southern California Ecosystems projects

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