What whales mean to Downey

As if on cue, last Friday the California Coastal Commission "rejected a Navy explosives and sonar training program off the Southern California coast that critics said could harm endangered blue whales and other sea life," according to NBC News, The Associated Press, and others. This, a day after our column in The Downey Patriot spoke of the environmental significance of whales as evidence of a world in transition.Now two government agencies are arguing over some very scary stuff. The Navy is applying for a five-year renewal of a federal marine permit to conduct training in ocean waters between Southern California and Hawaii. Further, the Navy projects that its sonar and explosives training will kill 160 marine mammals and cause hearing loss to another 1,600 over the next five years. The CCC believes these projections are significantly understated. In fact the Commission thinks the Navy is grossly overstepping its bounds. One particularly trenchant comment came from CCC Commissioner Jana Zimmer: "I understand you see this 120,000-square mile range as your theater, but the bottom line is we don't see it that way. That theater is occupied by creatures of the sea. Because the people of California have worked so hard and so long to create these marine protected areas, you need to start looking at this theater as a theater where some of the seats are reserved." In our earlier articles touching on whales, we spoke of the humpback whale, which breeds and births off Hawaii during winter and spring. One of the characteristic traits of the species is that humpback males sing long extended songs, both low- and high-pitched, that are taken up by other males and sung in variation over long distances throughout the population. Think of it as hundreds of guy whales revving up for extended choruses of "Kum Bah Yah." Since the songs are sung primarily in winter breeding grounds, it is theorized that they may have to do with mating. (So maybe the tune is really something like "Baby Come Back.") In broad terms then, these whale songs are seen to relate to reproduction and thus ultimately to species preservation. The Navy's sonar blasts (over 9 MILLION projected over the next five years) could not only cause injury and death to these marine animals, but may also create another threat of extinction a mere fifty years after global regulation saved the humpback and other whales from near extinction through whaling. It's as if a young couple wanting to start a family found the Navy parked in their backyard with a bullhorn so loud they couldn't even talk, much less make babies. A trivial example perhaps, but you get the point. There is no privacy for whales, and they can't hear to talk in their own living room. There are other threats to whales, including the continuing peril of being hunted, as well as high-velocity ship strikes, increasing toxins in the marine ecosystem, entanglement, habitat displacement, and the mounting effects of global climate change. So why the angst about water animals in Downey? After all, we're miles from the coast, and those whales don't live here. The answer to that question is the fundamental over-arching principle of this ongoing column. And that is that the experiences of all God's creatures reflect back on us humans. We're actually in charge here. (Remember the Biblical injunction that humans shall "have dominion" over the earth.) Anthropogenic activity has an overwhelming impact on the rest of creation. Whether or not that's a good thing is highly debatable. In the whale's backyard the consequences of human activity continue to be deleterious and deadly. The moral is that, if we take care of the whales, we're actually taking care of ourselves. And in the oceans, which bring us life as well as the whales, we need to clean up our act.

********** Published: March 14, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 48