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Better ways to save more whales

Alan Braunholtz

A bottlenosed whale recently got the population of England all agog. Normally a deep diving whale, it decided to hang out between London’s famous bridges over the river Thames, swimming past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. No one knew why. It may have been sick, confused or injured by naval sonar.For whales, which effectively see with sound waves, military sonar is a deafening flash of noise that can rupture their sensitive ears. It’s a common cause of whale beachings and death. This will get worse since the military – like all bureaucracies – desires more power and bigger toys. With plans for widespread, more powerful and destructive active sonar, we’ll drive many sea mammals insane and extinct. Destroying the world to save it for ourselves is a goal, not an irony for some military planners.This poor little bottlenosed whale became the center of attention and rescue attempts. Sadly, none worked and the whale died as a barge rushed it back to deeper waters. Incidents like this happen all the time. Whole villages will try to save pods of stranded whales, an elk trapped in a fence gets help, and so on. Sure, it helps if the animal is rare, out of place and cute. But a lot of people will go out of their way to help any wild animal in trouble, down to throwing worms stranded on a dry road after a rainstorm back into the grass.According to my family, almost everyone in England rooted for the whale. Why do we value the mystery of the wild that much? Do we feel guilty or sad at our ever-increasing distance from the natural environment we live in? I don’t know, but saving one whale gave everyone a chance to show they cared and do something about it.Often when you look at the environmental problems we’re creating around us, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and powerless. Pushing a whale off a beach is probably a very good antidote. This empathy and desire to help is a good thing. It shows we care. I just wish more of us would take it another step past the stricken individual and immediately apparent crisis that triggers these feelings to the unseen and often unknown problems out there.This isn’t just for animals or the environment. It includes us, too. It’s hard not to be swept up whenever a local paper runs a story on some child with an expensive illness who needs help. One-hundred dollars will help a little, but then sending another $100 to Oxfam will save an unknown child or two’s lives in Africa all by itself. Do both and you can transfer the good feelings of the known successes here to the unknown and larger successes there.It’s great that the people of England tried so hard to save this whale, but then why not contact the chairman of Sony or Honda to tell them you’ll avoid Japanese goods until they stop commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research? It’s a subsidized industry based on stubborn pride, not economics. Consumer action that hurts their economy would save many more whales from bleeding to death after being blown up with explosive harpoons than die in the Thames.I’m not sure what would work with Norway and Iceland. They don’t produce much worth buying anyway. “Oh dear! I’ll have to forsake my Dale of Norway fashion victim look.” Why not send Greenpeace $20 instead of buying Icelandic dried fish? Greenpeace’s “Defending our Oceans” Web page has a link to contact Gortons’ seafood, whose parent company is Nissui, which is directly linked to Japan’s Fisheries Whaling Agency.Letting our politicians know that you’re not a fan of loosening environmental protections and the new Navy sonar would save many marine mammals. Politicians are supposed to be our representatives, not of the lobbyists who give them ever more money. Voting those who would destroy the environment out is a great way of reminding them of that. Upset by news of polar bears drowning as they struggle to swim the larger and larger distances between the pack ice they live and hunt on due to global warming? Then buy a smaller car, as well as pushing for politicians who at least acknowledge that climate change is happening. Consumer pressure is huge.Then there’s House Republican Pombo’s so-called “wildlife extinction” bill masquerading as an improvement to the Endangered Species Act. HR 3824 aims to remove pesky wildlife whose habitat gets in the way of progress. This act eliminates required habitat protection for endangered species and reduces the input of scientists and wildlife experts. Science is hard to spin the way some want, so best if it’s removed from the decision process in favor of politics. Pesticides are exempt from control under the Endangered Species Act under this bill. The list goes on. Fortunately, the Senate can still block it. There are bipartisan attempts to make the Endangered Species Act more effective, while offering incentives to landowners and others to join in conservation. An effective act needs help from landowners. Bill HR 3824 is not one of these. It’s an attempt to gut the ESA. Phone the U.S. Senate at (202) 224-3121 to let your state’s senators know you prefer wildlife to this bill.It may not be as satisfying as pushing a whale off a beach, but it’s a cheaper and easier way to make a difference.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado


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