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Conservation Efforts

Last of the Atlantic Whales? Not a single whale calf seen this year

Earth Day brings a curious annual dichotomy of feel-good warmth n' cuddles with cute creatures, planting vegetable gardens or a tree, or a usually unfocused immersion in alarm. Ethically, we cannot offer the former. We will offer a focal point for the latter.

The North Atlantic Right Whales are facing extinction. It's that simple. No exaggeration. No Chicken Little "sky-is-falling" hype. Just fact.

For the first time in decades, no new calves have been seen during the recent breeding season for the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale population.

The numbers tell an alarming story: Only 100 females of breeding age remain. Only five calves were born in 2017. And at least 17 right whales died last year.

The "right whale" didn't get that name from swimming on one side—they don't. They were named by whalers who hunted them two centuries ago, because they were the species that yielded the most whale oil, in a time when industrial expansion hadn't yet discovered that petroleum could be exploited instead.

North Atlantic Right Whales barely survived that era. They barely survive at all, now. And they need our help – they need YOU.

A well-respected organization, Oceana, is running an urgent campaign to protect these whales from the growing and new threats that include seismic airgun blasting and offshore drilling. Indeed, the very survival of these critically endangered whales may hang on prompt and specific intervention to stop seismic airgun blasting and offshore drilling.

For the first time in decades, there are no active campaigns to regulate anything that rich interests want to do, no matter how destructive to the planet and the animals and planets who share it with us.

We cannot expect any help from traditional allies in our federal government's regulatory agencies. For the first time in decades, there are no active campaigns to regulate anything that rich interests want to do, no matter how destructive to the planet and the animals and planets who share it with us. In fact, traditionally monitored and long-regulated generators of poisons, pollutants, and reckless land use for short-term greedy aims are getting free passes and get-out-of-jail-free cards.

We could tell you about dozens of issues that have become critical. National Monuments, under the aegis of the National park Service, that we all believed were protected forever. But that are being given-over to exploiters who will destroy habitats along with the scenery, digging for toxic uranium or leaving cyanide in the poisonous extraction of gold. And the fact that policy based on science is absent because it cuts into somebody's desire to extract profits.

But the crisis these whales face is as urgent as it gets: The Trump administration is moving quickly to green-light seismic airgun blasting and new offshore drilling. This could happen in a matter of days.

During the process to locate oil and gas deposits below the seafloor, seismic airguns shoot dynamite-like bursts—loud blasts of compressed air—in our ocean every 10 seconds. This goes on 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. Once blasting begins, there’s nowhere for these animals to hide.

Since long before humans appeared on Earth, whales have communicated with sounds—we call them whalesongs—that carried for hundreds of miles through the medium of their liquid world. We know from research on ship navigation sonar and military signals that artificial sounds are damaging and can even drive marine mammals to commit suicide by beaching themselves just to get away from the sound pressures that can drive them crazy.

Seismic airgun blasts are so loud that they could cause serious injury or death, outright, and disturb vital behaviors of critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales in particular, including impacting their ability to communicate, locate their young or hunt for food.

Alex Gray, Director of Digital Engagement for Oceana, says, "We must all refuse to stand by while oil and gas exploration companies and the Trump Administration subject Right Whales to this attack."

As we prepared this story, it occurred to us that if you already belong to an environmental organization, you can ask what they are doing to protect the few remaining whales of this species. Or look into supporting Oceana which is leading this fight.

Despite the expansion of scientific understanding and unprecedented ability to monitor ocean currents, dissemination of pollutants, climate, weather, migrations, and everything from plastic junk to noise in the oceans, environmental organizations are up against more than at any time since the first Earth Day was observed in 1970. They are challenged in expensive nuisance suits and their work is ridiculed, despite solid science that drives most of their agendas. Grey tells us about the current gains by campaign organizers at Oceana. They have:

  • Encouraged more than 15 state governors to state their opposition to offshore drilling activities along their coasts.
  • Activated over 1,200 local, state and federal bipartisan officials to oppose the expansion of offshore drilling.
  • Helped organize alliances on both the East and West Coasts representing over 40,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families.

In addition, we found news features about more.

A seven-year Oceana-led campaign built a groundswell of public support to keep Belize’s waters oil-free. Last December, Belize became the world’s first country to reject all offshore oil.

A recent NPR report cites the efforts of Oceana, in "Fishing Boats 'Going Dark' Raise Suspicion Of Illegal Catches."

The organization is claiming a major victory for another of its campaigns in the announcement by Chile of a dramatic expansion of protected areas in its seas. More than 25 percent of that nation's long coastal ocean zones is now protected, in waters that comprise more than half the entire west coast of South America and around the turbulent seas of the continent's southern tip.

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Another of their global campaigns aims to prevent the extinction of the Orca, before its situation becomes as desperate as the Right Whale.

And Oceana is sounding the alarm over the Trump administration's plan for hugely expanded offshore drilling, with facts that show new drilling leases would threaten our nation’s vibrant coastal economies including more than 2.6 million jobs and nearly $180 billion in lost GDP.

All these are points of successful activism that are encouraging. But individually and collectively, they have not yet proven to be enough to save the once numerous Right Whale, now one of the rarest of cetacean species. Saving the species, like any effort, is severable from public sentiment and economic facts in the face of greed and the propaganda and fear campaigns it mounts to protect its insatiable quest for profits. And ultimately, any preservation campaign is only as strong as the support it can muster and sustain -- in the face of Big Oil and a Big Money corporatocracy that funds politicians' election campaigns and re-election war chests.

Washington, D.C.-based Oceana gets a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. You can sign-up for their news and alerts for free, by texting JOIN to 50555 (standard message and data rates may apply, as determined by your phone plan).

Of course, Oceana is not alone. We have more news, with late-breaking developments, about the activities of another effective organization, this one called Climate Hawks Vote.

Last September, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland sued the world’s biggest oil companies for damages related to global warming. Despite increasingly desperate attempts by the polluters to stop the case, it’s moving forward. See "Climate science on trial as high-profile US case takes on fossil fuel industry," in the Guardian.

A month ago, on a Wednesday near the end of March, there came an action that could have game-changing repercussions. The judge in the case, William Alsup, convened a formal “tutorial” on climate science. It made the Columbia Law School's Law Review.

On behalf of the two California cities, esteemed climate scientists Myles Allen and Don Wuebbles presented the science-based data of human-made climate change.

The lawyer for Chevron emphasized climate change “uncertainties.”

That's "a classic tactic from the denier playbook," asserts Brad Johnson, spokesman for Climate Hawks Vote. McClatchy News Service reported it in "Big Oil lawyer emphasizes climate change ‘uncertainties’ in wonky court tutorial."

Lawyers for ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, and the other oil companies being sued, remained silent.

"It seems [those] companies could not find any scientists to make their case," says Johnson.

He continues, "In the age of the Kochs and Trump, we need local officials to be our climate champions. This lawsuit is a reminder of the potential power that every single elected official has. But too many are beholden to climate-polluter campaign dollars."

That’s why his organization is pushing politicians at all levels of government to sign the "No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge" — so that we can all know they will fight with us against the influence of big polluters in our political system. Or at least, not be beholden to fight against us and the health of the planet. That multi-organization campaign is detailed in "Tell Our Leaders: Take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge."

You can check out Climate Hawks Vote and their work here.

Johnson says, "Chevron’s tactics are all too familiar. Calling the science 'unsettled' is the go-to defense of climate-denying politicians who are bought out by companies like Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP. And they’re not going to get away with subverting reality for their corporate donors anymore."

As to how to achieve that? "Our plan to confront fossil-fueled politics is simple: if the 200,000 members of Climate Hawks Vote get candidates at all levels across the country to take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge this year, we can build the fossil-free electoral might we need to fight Exxon and the Koch brothers," says Johnson.

We live in a world saturated with breathless hype. It's the fulfillment of the old song lyric, "Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind, Do this, don't do that, Can't you read the sign?"

Political protest and activism often proves transitory and ultimately unfulfilling because it leaves us with a sense that we've been exploited by those who say what we want to hear to elect them. And terms of office are short and suck money like a vampire needs blood. Resulting in a political system with no ability to meaningfully address any long-term problem that interferes with some fat cat's short-term profit-taking.

Meanwhile, saving the planet remains an incomprehensibly big task. But saving habitats for individual creatures and plants, and protecting them from destruction in their habitats, is the necessary first step in saving the ecosystems that give the Earth a complex, interdependent, web of life. While stopping pollutants from fouling "the commons"—the air we all share, and the waterways and oceans that enable life on Earth—are among the very few the things that require us to do something that isn't simply a nice feel-good thing, or "trending today," or

here until we click the next disposable item. Some things are not optional. Though they have been successful for many thousands or even millions of years, whether they survive human activity in our time is in question.

Thus, we can stay distracted and watch the latest outrage over the latest Trump scandal and allow the corporate interests to laugh all the way to the bank. Or we can act as citizens of planet Earth to save our fellow passengers, the North Atlantic Right Whale. And if we choose the former, the only thing we'll know about a species of whale is what we glean from pictures, read in books and websites, or see in a museum alongside displays of dead dinosaurs and extinct dodo birds.

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Larry Wines

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