Remember the Marine Mammal Protection Act

Photo credit: Carla Mitroff

Blue whale watching off the coast of Los Angeles has brought much excitement, but also much craziness. As with all things where humans get into the mix, some whale watching off the coast of Southern California has gotten out of control. I was appalled to learn from Captain Brad Sawyer, who expertly steers the Voyager out of Redondo Beach for whale watching excursions, that he witnessed a jet skier zoom up the side of one of the blue whales, using the whale as a joy ride ramp. This is just sick and possibly the most disgraceful way to treat the most magnificent and largest animal to ever live on earth.

But when life throws you lemons, make lemonade. This is the perfect opportunity to remind everyone about the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This law was passed in 1972 to protect marine mammals of all kinds from potentially harmful human behavior including hunting, harassment, using marine mammals to make products and importing marine mammals.

Since the jet skier incident falls within the category of harassment, here’s a more detailed definition of what that includes: “The term ‘harassment’ means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”

What does this mean for the jet skier if caught? “Any person who violates any provision of this title or of any permit or regulation issued thereunder, except as provided in section 118, may be assessed a civil penalty by the Secretary of not more than $10,000 for each such violation.”

That’s right, if caught and charged, the jet skier could face a fine of up to 10 grand!

The other big rule outlined by the MMPA is to maintain a 100 yard distance from marine mammals at all times. Never try to get closer than 100 yards. Now of course there are exceptions for example if the whale suddenly starts swimming towards you then there’s not much you can do about it, but you can’t approach the whale.

If you see any illegal activities when you are out whale watching or watching from shore please call NOAA’s law enforcement hotline at (800) 980-3232. Help protect the endangered blue whale from human craziness!

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