Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Marine Mammal Protection Act
Maybe you've seen the insurance company's commercial: The mother and calf humpback whale swim through the ocean while the announcer intones about how whale song albums released in the 1960s lead to the worldwide protection of whales (and therefore, by some leap of logic, you should buy their insurance). Indeed it was songs by Judy Collins, The Partridge Family, Country Joe McDonald and others that increased awareness of the plight of whales and other marine mammals, leading the US to adopt the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
Called the first legislation to take an "ecosystem approach" to wildlife management, the act led to protection of not just endangered but all marine mammal species, and regulated taking, which is the harassing, hunting, capturing, killing, or collecting (or attempting to do any of these things) of marine mammals.
Rules for mariners. Actions by vessels near marine mammals are restricted by regulations adopted by federal agencies under authority of the MMPA. Specific regulations can vary from region to region, but many wildlife watching captains adhere to "Code of Conduct" which calls for staying at least 100 yards from animals, not staying with any individual animal for more than 30 minutes, not cutting off an animals from its group, and not trapping an animal between the vessel and the shore. In southeast Alaska, this code of conduct was adopted into law in 2001 and expanded, forbidding vessels from maneuvering if within 100 yards of a humpback whale, and forbidding "leap-frogging," maneuvering a vessel in front of a whale to try to get it to surface. In Glacier Bay National Park, there are even more stringent rules, including speed limits in "whale waters" whether whales are present or not. On the US east coast, the "no go zone" is expanded to 500 yards around right whales. Other MMPA regulations forbid feeding, touching, or swimming with marine mammals.
Criticisms: MMPA goes too far. Some fishing industry groups say MMPA regulations put animals before people. Gray seals were raiding the pens at some New England fish farms, but the MMPA forbid the fish farmers from doing anything to control the seals. Native American groups have expressed concerns that the law infringes on their traditional and treaty rights.
Criticisms: MMPA doesn't go far enough. The US Navy has been taken task twice, once for using sonar that adversely effected whales, and once for a program to train dolphins to guard a submarine base. Other critics say the act should be expanded to include mammals held in captivity, like at Seaworld.
The National Marine Fisheries Service publishes specific regulations for marine mammal watching here.
The private Pacific Whale Watch Association publishes it guidelines here; they are a little more straightforward than the government publication.
If you like songs with whales in them, try these YouTube videos:
Posted by Rob Earle at 12:01 AM