San Francisco Must Stop Abusing Its Marine Mammals
As sad and strange as it might seem, the San Francisco populace acts like it still lacks awareness of the pressures marine mammals face. The Pacific Ocean houses thousands of ecosystems vital to the Earth’s biosphere. Marine mammals like bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, otters, and whales roam freely along the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, the large human population in San Francisco enormously affects the lives of these animals through overfishing, plastic pollution, and motorboat activity. These adverse conditions not only pose threats to the mammals, they negatively affect human populations. Coastal residents need to become more collectively conscious of the fact that the ocean should be understood as something more than just a pantry and toilet. Then, they must show a willingness to fix the problem as soon as possible.
San Francisco’s increasing population over the past forty years has led to overfishing and unnecessary stress on marine mammals. According to the United States government, nearly 100,000 marine mammals die annually from commercial fishing mishaps like “boat collisions, entanglements in fishing gear, and entrapments as non-target species.” The rapid rate of seafood consumed and exported from San Francisco increases the fishing rate along the coast. Overfishing has become a common practice and occurs when fish are caught rapidly and cannot reproduce in a timely fashion. Needless to say, this causes grave complications among the marine population. Sea Lions, for example, have small pups that must have certain nutrients to develop properly. However, provisions of these important nutrients can only come from fish. When starving mammals become attracted to a net full of fish, fishermen often brutally shoot the animals in the head, instantly killing them. Ultimately, many fish to disappear from the ecosystem, leading to malnutrition among vulnerable animals.
Furthermore, fishermen pose a threat to marine animals because of the gear they use to fish. Fishing companies commonly put out expansive nylon nets in the water hoping to catch fish by surprise. Regrettably, small animals such as sea lions, otters, and dolphins find themselves caught in the netting. Fishermen leave the trapped mammals to drown scared and alone. Larger animals like whales have the strength to swim away from the netting, but leftover net can remain attached to their bodies. The netting leaves wounds, which commonly harbor diseases that lead to death. As one can see, then, the use of commercialized fishing equipment causes inhumane and terrifying situations for these innocent creatures.
Although to expect everyone in the United States to stop consuming seafood would be ridiculous, San Franciscans have easy options in helping marine animals. Many local fishermen have a keen awareness of the significant impact marine mammals have on the biosphere. Unlike huge companies, local fishing groups do not use huge netting and only have a small demand for products. Buying locally would support people in the area and help reduce the influence of huge corporations. Editors at National Geographic urge people to read the labels when purchasing fish food for their pets, too. If the label states that over-exploited species were caught, then they urge people to not buy the food. If everyone in the San Francisco Bay Area consciously made decisions to cut back their consumption of corporate caught seafood and buy locally, fish could regenerate their population putting food back into the mouths of marine mammals.
Regrettably, aquatic animals in the Bay Area also find themselves encountering plastic trash daily. Every year, billions of used plastic bottles and bags are carried into the ocean by wind and rains. Sea animals, already starving from overfishing, ingest the bottles hoping to squelch their hunger. The issue of animal-ingested plastic toxins has begun to raise concern at the Center for Biological Diversity because plastic thrown into the ocean absorbs dangerous pollutants like PCBs and DDT. These powerful chemicals have proven to cause cancer mutations and digestive eruptions among mammals. The animals become forced to suffer pain and feelings of chronic fullness at the hands of San Francisco’s plastic waste. One should also keep in mind that when any type of creature, fish or mammal, ingests these toxins, the toxins spread up the food chain to humans.
Another endangerment that marine mammals face comes from tourist and fishing boats. Large motorboats pass in and out of the San Francisco Bay in an endless train of activity, and most of the boat passengers seem blissfully unaware of the havoc they create among sea animals. A study done in 1998 examined the change in behavior of bottle-nose dolphins around boats. Over 55% of bottle-nose dolphins changed their behavior because of the sound of motorboats, and 11% of dolphins changed course to follow alongside the boat (Aubin, Matteson, Thomas 2). As a result, dolphins often become injured or die from boat encounters. Ironically, marine mammals face injustices every day for having an innate curiosity of human activity. Our mere presence does damage to our inquisitive aquatic neighbors.
A few simple steps can make a big difference in protecting marine animals from plastic and motorboats. The city of San Francisco recycles extensively in various ways. All of the harmful plastic the marine mammals ingest can find its way into the recycling bins around town if people simply take the time to properly dispose of these waste products. Tourists and locals should also make mammal-friendly decisions when at the beach or out in the ocean. Instead of bringing a plastic bag to carry food in, why not bring reusable containers and cloth sacks? The use of these reusable materials makes it almost impossible for someone to accidently leave waste that harms aquatic animals. National Geographic also suggests that people need to look around at the water when out at sea, this greatly reduces deadly collisions among boats and animals. Conscious decisions from people help save animal lives. Instead of feeling guilty about running over a bottle-nose dolphin, why not spend more time figuring out how to avoid harming it?
Perhaps the most important threat facing marine mammals comes from the consequences of biodiversity alterations. Any change made to an ecosystem affects the earth’s natural biology, which in turn becomes risky for sustaining human life. The San Francisco Bay area houses a huge ecosystem, from small kelp to large whales. When overfishing occurs, or sea mammals start to become sparse, this affects the natural food chain in the ocean. The loss of diverse mammal species due to overfishing along the coast of San Francisco alters the entire ecosystem’s ability to adapt. According to marine researchers, if an ecosystem cannot adapt, it makes changes nearly impossible for the entire biosphere. Put simply, when the loss of marine mammal life interrupts the flow of the ecosystems throughout the world, it affects the biological makeup of everything.
A prime example of this environmental degradation can be seen in the low number of North American sea otters in San Francisco. Kelp, a tall underwater plant, releases carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide has vast importance to humans because people process the substance in their lungs. Kelp forests, which grow along the bottom of the ocean, thrive on the sea otter’s ability to consume food. The Pacific sea otter loves eating sea urchins, and because of this, kelp has the ability to freely grow from under the urchins. In recent years, the otter became listed as an endangered species in the state of California because of human carelessness in not preserving the otter’s natural habitat.
Fortunately, the Marine Mammal Center in San Francisco has dedicated its time to aide in the conservation of aquatic mammals. This center houses thousands of paid employees and volunteers who rescue mammals along the San Francisco coast. Since their founding in 1975, they have rescued almost twenty thousand injured or ill mammals. The center strives to not only rehabilitate mammals, but its employees also release animals back into the ocean. The center’s mission statement promises “to expand knowledge about marine mammals, their health and that of their ocean environment, and to inspire global conservation.” Advocacy groups like this need more population participation and research awareness. A willingness among people to learn from the Marine Mammal Center could greatly reduce the number of human induced problems that these animals face.
Examining all of these factors allows one a better understanding of the extreme importance of marine mammals to the San Francisco Bay. To a great extent, humans have impacted their environment in some abominable ways, to include forcing animals to live among foreign objects like nets, boats, and debris. Huge fish companies that overfish have worsened the situation. Humans need to examine their own selfishness for the greater good of these animals. Saving these animals will benefit California’s entire ecosystem. Knowledge is the key component in raising awareness of the need for improving these animal’s lives through human reformation. The Marine Mammal Act may have saved a few lives, but justice has still not prevailed for these innocent animals who cannot voice their own opinions.