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Friday, July 31, 2009

Aquatic Accommodations

It’s been a good week for marine life. The House of Representatives emphatically passed two bills to protect sea otters and turtles. A New York Times editorial called for an end to the cruel and wasteful practice of cutting the fins off sharks in American waters, and celebrity chef Alice Waters joined the fight to boycott shark fin soup. Also, the documentary film “The Cove,” which opens tonight in theaters, pulls the curtain back on the clandestine dolphin slaughters in Japan for the aquarium and theme park industry.

It's time to end the cruel practice of shark finning.

The week’s advances follow a steady drumbeat of recent victories for ocean creatures. Earlier this year, the House passed legislation to crack down on shark finning, which is now pending in the Senate, and previously a resolution calling on the International Whaling Commission to remain firmly opposed to commercial whaling. Both chambers of Congress have now passed resolutions urging Canada to end the shooting and clubbing of baby seals for their fur pelts—the world’s largest commercial slaughter of mammals. The HSUS has won legal challenges to protect endangered right whales from becoming tangled in fishing gear, and to stop invasive research methods such as hot branding on endangered Steller sea lions.

While some of these fights will continue to play out before they’re resolved, one years-long maritime battle came one step closer to being settled for good last week. Despite a promise to veto any non-budget legislation that landed on his desk during the recent protracted budget impasse in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger picked up his pen and enacted urgent legislation allowing the city of San Diego to protect a group of seals in La Jolla. This action gives seal lovers hope that their long-drawn-out tug of war over a tiny patch of beach may be in the homestretch.

For more than a decade, the seals’ fate has been tossed back and forth like a beach ball. State courts ruled that the 1931 Tidewaters Trust required that the beach be maintained as a swimming spot for children, and therefore seals had to be ejected. Federal courts delayed dispersal of the seals while considering implications under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Senate Bill 428, introduced by state Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) and coauthored by Assemblymembers Lori Saldana (D-San Diego) and Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego), finally gives the city of San Diego the discretion to allow marine mammals to inhabit the Children’s Pool. The city of San Diego, The HSUS, the Animal Protection & Rescue League, the La Jolla Friends of the Seals, and other San Diego groups and advocates worked hard to ensure passage of this important legislation. 

The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support from both the Assembly and the Senate. On the morning that Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law, state Judge Stanley Hoffman had just issued an order giving San Diego officials only 72 hours to begin removing the seals—but the governor’s action prompted Judge Hoffman to stay the order and literally granted the seals an eleventh-hour reprieve.

Gov. Schwarzenegger recently approved legislation to help protect La Jolla seals.

If the city had been forced to remove the seals—at a cost to taxpayers of about $700,000—an important rookery would have been destroyed, threatening the integrity of the colony. Research has documented the bonds between female seals that outlast the actual natal rookery and help maintain colony integrity until the next birthing season. Thanks to state lawmakers’ intervention, the city now has the authority to preserve the seals’ habitat as well as an important and beloved San Diego institution.

A recent survey indicates that nearly two-thirds of San Diego residents want the seals to keep their place on the beach. And the San Diego Union-Tribune has crusaded for seal protection on its editorial page, calling for the city council to “stand firmly on the side of the seals.” Now the city can end this costly and bitter battle once and for all, and do right by the seals who are treasured by the San Diego community and its tourists.

If a group of people who’ve been the victims of shark attacks can travel to Congress to lobby for shark protection, then surely a group of swimmers who’ve never been harmed by seals can share a little piece of the beach with these creatures. We must strike a balance between our interests and theirs, because it’s in our interest, too, that seals, sharks, sea otters, turtles, whales, and other marine life always has a place on this planet.

    San Diego Union-Tribune


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