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Vaquita. Photo Thomas Jefferson

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blue whale

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Humpback whale © Christopher Swann

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Trump Administration targets marine mammals…again

Marine Mammal Commission is in trouble

*Update: In spite of this Administration’s attempt to eliminate the US Marine Mammal Commission, the House and Senate have approved funding to continue the important work of this US Agency.

For the second time since taking office, the Trump Administration is attempting to eliminate the US Marine Mammal Commission. The Marine Mammal Commission a legally mandated body under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act which “provides independent oversight of the marine mammal conservation policies and programs being carried out by federal regulatory agencies”.  It is the only US Agency which provides unbiased oversight on the science, policies and management of marine mammals in the US.  According to a statement from the Chair of the Marine Mammal Commission, the newly proposed FY2019 budget released by the Trump Administration eliminates funding for this Agency. 

“This is yet another malicious political attempt to undermine protections for marine mammals in the United States” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of WDC, North America. This funding attack comes on the heels of Bill H.R. 3133, the “Streamlining Environmental Approvals” (SEA) Act,  which guts core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in order to fast-track seismic airgun surveys used for oil exploration and other activities in the ocean that can harm whales and dolphins, and the entire marine ecosystem. HR 3133 passed the House Natural Resources Committee in early January and now could head for a full vote in the House of Representatives.

Four of the world’s most endangered whales suffer in US waters as threats to their habitat continue to mount. Fewer than 100  North Pacific right whales, Southern Resident Orcas, and Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales remain. In the Atlantic, the declining population of North Atlantic right whales faced a significant blow in 2017 with the loss of over 3% of the population, primarily as a result of entanglements in fishing gear and boat strikes.  In spite of ongoing threats to these species, President Trump signed Executive Order 13795 last April which, among other things, potentially opens oil and gas exploration in all US waters, increasing threats to whales and dolphins from the  intense noise of seismic exploration and—if development proceeds- from future oil spills. Research shows that man-made noise increases stress hormones in whales, which can impact their ability to reproduce and impair their immune systems while more than 5,000 whales and dolphins are thought to have been killed as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.   

While the link to climate change from burning fossil fuels is well known, the need for whale populations to recover as a means to combat climate change is only beginning to come to light as emerging research underscores the critical role whales play in enhancing carbon sequestration. 

“It is beyond tragic that one of the richest and most well developed countries in the world is willing to drive to extinction the very species it needs to survive” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director for WDC’s North American office.  “This is not about energy independence or fiscal responsibility; it’s about profits for a few at the expense of the planet.” 

Last June, WDC joined over 70 prominent researchers and conservationists asking Congress to continue to fund the Marine Mammal Commission which resulted in a one year budget allocation.  WDC and its partners will continue to fight for additional funding for the Commission and the ongoing protections of the whales and dolphins with which it is charged. 

 What you can do:

 You can help us tell Congress to defend whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals  by