This month with Stewardship Monday, we shall explore some of the laws and policies that are used to protect the environment, and how they might affect our lives.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act was established in 1972. This law protects all marine mammals from collection, import, export, or harassment in the United States. This act was established because some species were in danger of extinction or depletion of marine mammals, which were proven to be resources of international significance about which not much was known. Scientists are continuing to uncover the broad importance of marine mammals to their ecosystems, including on commercially important marine resources.
In addition to using an ecosystem approach for the conservation of marine mammals, this law also includes protection for animals in captivity. There are few exceptions to this law including permits for scientific research and indigenous peoples whose culture and livelihood depend on the take of marine mammals.
You can do your part to protect mammals by following the letter of the law. If you see a mammal on the beach (usually a seal) DO NOT APPROACH IT! That’s the law! Any interaction with marine mammals, including approaching one, that alters the animal’s behavior is considered harassment. This applies on land and in the water (if you are on a boat, for example). This is especially important when you see babies around. Many people are tempted to approach a baby seal that they see on the beach, thinking that it has been abandoned. If the mother is in the water and sees you, she may be scared away from going back to her pup. If you see a seal pup or any stranded animal, call the Marine Mammal Center and stay away from this animal—this is best for both the animal and for your safety!
Another important way that we affect marine mammals is through dumping trash. The last time our members visited Ano Nuevo to see the elephant seals we saw many animals with scars from being entangled with trash and discarded fishing gear. As always, it is important to know where your waste goes. Marine mammals are yet another group that benefits from Reducing, Reusing, Repurposing and Recycling.