North Atlantic right whales are facing a breeding and survival crisis, due in large part to entanglements in fishing gear. Humpback whales are dying in unprecedented numbers off the Northeastern U.S., some are also casualties of entanglements while others have fatally collided with ships, and the causes of death of others are unknown. Vaquitas face an almost certain extinction thanks to the use of gillnets used for fishing, which indiscriminately trap and kill these small porpoises.

North Atlantic right whales. Photo: Lauren Packard / Flickr

When President Trump had the opportunity this year to make a difference in the lives of these imperiled marine mammals, he didn’t. He wanted to cut funding in the Federal 2018 Budget for the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent government agency established by the Marine Mammal Protection Act 46 years ago, which is responsible for advising U.S. policy decisions affecting marine mammals and establishing a conservation ethic through sound science. Over the years, the Commission has helped prevent the deaths of millions of marine mammals from human activities such as oil drilling, mining, transportation, seismic blasting and fishing bycatch. Since the Marine Mammal Act has been in existence, no marine mammals have gone extinct in U.S. waters.

While the activities the Marine Mammal Commission performs are critically important to protecting millions of animals, they are not expensive to carry out. In fact, its 2017 budget of $3.4 million cost American taxpayers just one cent that year. But Trump thinks Americans’ pennies could be better spent elsewhere, on the U.S. military or building his wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Two weeks ago it looked like the Marine Mammal Commission would be slashed. But thanks to thousands of concerned people criticizing Trump’s plan in letters to the U.S. government and a few decisive budget compromises, the Marine Mammal Commission will be funded through another year. It will maintain the same budget as last year, $3.4 million, which advocates for the Commission say should be sufficient to fund its essential activities.

Pacific white-sided dolphin. Photo: Erica Cirino

“Of course, additional funds are desirable to match the increasing costs and competing interests,” said Sheri Pais, a paralegal at Perkins Coie LLP who was involved in helping the public prepare and send letters about the importance of funding the Marine Mammal Commission to the Federal government. “But, the Commission has demonstrated in the past that it has been effective at this level of funding.”

While the Marine Mammal Commission has survived another year, Trump is still working to dismantle protections for the oceans and the life they contain—putting big business interests before the health of the environment. He’s working to open coastal waters to oil drilling, overhaul rules on seismic oil exploration in the oceans and fast-track other exploitative activities associated with the petrochemical industry that imperil marine life.

Trump has quietly managed to push two bills through the committee to a vote: the Streamlining Environmental Approvals, or SEA, Act and Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy, or SECURE, Act. These bills target important aspects of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which regulates exploratory seismic blasts used to find oil and gas. Seismic blasts are known to harm and disrupt the natural activities of whales, dolphins and other cetaceans to the extent that it impairs their survival.

Risso’s dolphins. Photo: Erica Cirino

Ocean advocates urge the public to place steady, strong pressure on the Trump administration when it comes to safeguarding the health and safety of the sea. Keep tabs on Trump’s latest efforts to slash funding and support for groups and activities that protect the oceans by checking the Safina Center’s Ocean Issues webpage frequently for news, and actions you can take to make a difference.

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