Don't Fail the Whales, Mr. President
When the social networking phenomenon known as Twitter goes "over capacity," microbloggers trying to access the site are met with the image of a smiling whale floating above the waves, caught in a net held aloft by a flock of Tweeting birds. This is known as a "fail whale." Twitter's smart creators do nothing by accident; they doubtless selected that delightful image because the world's largest mammal has impressively high ratings with political animals of all walks. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW):
From the shores of Cape Cod to the California coast and across the political spectrum, Americans love whales. Five national surveys commissioned by [IFAW] over the past decade show overwhelming majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents want these intelligent, gentle creatures protected for future generations. Voters of all subgroups -- from rural, conservative GOP members to urban, liberal Democrats -- want our government to [protect] whales.
But given the environmental horrors developing daily via news reports on the marine devastation that continues unabated in the Gulf of Mexico, the "fail whale" has taken on tragic, symbolic significance. And now, the Gulf's suffering birds, fish, and other marine wildlife are not alone: the world's largest mammals may soon have no protection either. At the International Whaling Commission's 62nd annual meeting, taking place this week (June 15-18) in Morocco, the IWC's 88 member nations will vote on a controversial proposal that would effectively allow commercial whaling for the first time in 25 years.
The hauntingly beautiful, sophisticated song of the humpback whale, discovered by biologist Roger Payne in 1967 and recorded in 1970, galvanized the worldwide "Save the Whales" movement. It's some of the most beautiful music ever made; Payne described the whales' sonic arrangements, memorably, as "exuberant, uninterrupted rivers of sound." But nature's master musicians are only now beginning to recover from more than two hundred years of commercial whaling, which destroyed 95 percent of historic populations. Whales face the very real threat of extinction thanks to marine pollution, destruction of critical habitats, entanglements in fishing gear, and collisions with high-speed ships.
High-profile environmental activists are calling on President Obama to protect the world's largest mammals from decimation. What does the actor formerly known as James Bond have in common with the philanthropist famous for offering a $25 million prize to the first entity to provide a safe, effective, and practical non-surgical sterilant for use in cats and dogs? Compassion for whales. Pierce Brosnan and Dr. Gary Michelson are partnering with the National Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society of the United States, and the IFAW to urge President Obama to extend protection to whales. Brosnan, who also appears in a compelling PSA urging Americans to sign an online petition, has co-authored an open letter to President Obama. It begins:
Dear Mr. President,
Is it possible that the Obama Administration will capitulate to a proposed plan that permits Japan, Norway, and Iceland to resume commercial whaling? As unlikely as it sounds, the answer is yes. The Obama Administration has indeed supported, behind closed doors, a dangerous new proposal to overturn the global whaling ban.
Although Brosnan's Twitter account reveals that he follows only one person -- Al Gore -- this open letter he co-wrote on the whales' behalf gives credit where it's due: to a Republican. To wit:
Since President Ronald Reagan first helped usher in the international ban on commercial whaling, every American President has reasserted our nation's strong leadership in the fight to save the whales. ... All the more stunning then, to learn that U.S. government bureaucrats, together with fisheries representatives from a dozen other countries, have emerged from three years of closed-door meetings with a proposal to lift the ban on whaling. The proposal not only rewards Japan, Iceland, and Norway for flouting international law, but also gives these three nations "a license to kill" whales commercially. The group's final proposal, which was released on April 22nd (Earth Day!), and which will be voted on this June, is as unwise as it is out of the American mainstream.