By Ashley Blacow
The United States decided a long time ago to stop commercial whaling; and today people flock to our coast to see whales migrating in our waters. What they may not realize is that these same whales are still caught and killed in fishing nets. Despite important national laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act which prevent the direct commercial slaughter of whales today, our government allows commercial fishermen with drift gillnets to “incidentally” catch, maim, and kill not only whales, but dolphins, seals, and sea lions off the California coast.
Driftnets have been banned on the high seas and by many other coastal states and nations, yet they are still used off the coast of California to target swordfish and thresher sharks. Appropriately nicknamed “walls of death,” these mile-long nets are set overnight in the open ocean and snag and often drown a variety of marine life innocently passing in the night. While these nets are intended for swordfish, sadly, they also commonly ensnare and kill marine mammals.
On average, over 100 marine mammals are killed each year off California in driftnets. The list of victims is long and includes humpback, minke, pilot, and sperm whales, as well as dolphins, California sea lions, and Northern elephant seals. Other species that encounter these walls of death include endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, sharks, ocean sunfish, and many other fish, which are ensnared and tossed back to sea dead and dying. In 2011, this driftnet fishery tossed back six dead fish and one marine mammal for every five swordfish landed.
Sperm whales are one of the deepest diving whales, capable of reaching depths in excess of 3,000 feet. It is difficult to imagine this gentle giant, with relatively little natural threats, falling victim to fishing nets. More....