Posts Tagged ‘marine mammal protection act’

Directly alongside Highway 1 it is possible to witness one of nature’s most extraordinary spectacles.  Behold!  A beach full of snorting, sand-tossing, sun-bathing, breeding, molting, fighting, enormous Northern Elephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris).  Practically in our backyards in Piedras Blancas, we are fortunate enough to observe these magnificent marine mammals from only feet away.  For eight months out of the year, these pinnipeds spend their lives out in the open ocean, only to come ashore after swimming nearly 12,000 miles to mate in late November, give birth, and raise their pups.

On the beaches, massive males fight for dominance, often leaving each other bloody and tattered. The seals form harems, with a male surrounded by several females and their offspring.  The alpha male spends a good deal of his time keeping betas away from his ladies, and it is quite a scene to see a several ton male move with surprising speed across the sand to ward off competitors.  When feeding, the adults can reach depths of 5,000 feet and spend from 20 minutes to an hour under water.  Females search primarily for squid while males are thought to pursue a different diet of sharks, rays, and bottom-dwelling fish.  In their quest for dinner, males travel along the continent to the Gulf of Alaska and females head out towards the open sea before returning to their rookery on the Central Coast.  Northern Elephant Seals can live up to 14 years in the wild, making the migration multiple times once reaching maturity.

During the 1880’s Northern Elephant Seals were hunted almost to extinction by shore whalers for their blubber and oil.  Only between 20-100 of them remained off of Baja California before being protected by the Mexican government, and later the United States.  Today, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 keeps them secure and on the road to restoring their numbers.  Today, their populations have grown to 170,000 and continue to increase.  Organizations such as Friends of the Elephant Seal have taken it upon themselves to educate the public about the remarkable animals, and offer docent lectures, live web cams, and visitor center.

Get in touch with nature and view these magnificent marine mammals before they take off for another year!


The Otter Project

For some of us, the 80’s were hard.  They meant ill-advised side ponytails, far too much spandex, and awkward high school social interactions.  Yet, no matter how rough it may have been for humans, the sea otters living off the California coast had a much tougher go of things.

In 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, under the advice of Ronald Reagan and Strom Thurmond established a “No-Otter Zone” spanning from Point Conception south to the Mexican Border.  The Zone was created in response to complaints from the fishing industry that the otters were a threat to commercial species, and from oil companies worried that having such a cute and cuddly ocean ambassador would impede their drilling activities.

Even though the otters were protected by the Endangered Species Act as well as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, these animals were translocated to an “experimental” colony around San Nicholas Island in efforts to manage their populations.  The reasoning for the move was that in the event of an oil spill, large numbers of otters would perish, leaving the stocks depleted.  Having a reserve colony off the distant Channel Island could in effect save the bloodline and preserve genetic diversity.

Sadly, the translocation project was an abject failure.  Many otters died, disappeared, or swam back to their previous homes.  In 1993, only 12 otters out of the expected 150 lived off of the island.  The FWS found itself moving otters back at the cost of nearly $10,000 per animal, and encountered dead or sick otters that could have suffered adverse effects from transportation.  The FWS decided to stop containing the otters, but also did nothing to alter the law.

After years of lawsuits brought by both fisherman and environmentalists, the No-Otter Zone remains in effect although not enforced.  Otters are moving back into the the territory, but are still considered vulnerable until the legislation is officially repealed.

To advocate for protecting the otters, community members are invited to attend the FWS’s upcoming hearing in Santa Barbara on October4 from 5-8pm at the Fleischman Auditorium at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.  In addition, supporters are encouraged to write the FWS and local senators and representatives asking for a repeal of the No-Otter Zone.

For more information, visit the Otter Project’s Website to see how you can help one of California’s most famous residents!