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Thursday, Jan 26, 2023
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California’s Gray Whale Needs Protection

California’s gray whale is in danger.

The state Fish and Game Commission has erroneously listed the gray whale population as “recovered.” But that same whale, while traveling off the coast of Washington, is listed as “sensitive.” When it reaches Oregon, it’s considered “endangered.” That makes no sense.

Because of the scientific findings regarding past whale populations and recent observations that many gray whales are unhealthy and at risk, there is no doubt that the time for action is now.

For this reason, I wrote Assembly Joint Resolution 49. AJR 49 asks Congress and the president to take action to ensure that this species is not reduced further. The resolution first asks Congress and the president to call upon the National Marine Fisheries Service to undertake an immediate comprehensive assessment of the California gray whale, including threats to the species and the status of its habitat.

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Additionally, the resolution asks that the state Fish and Game Commission re-evaluate the status of the California gray whale based on the findings of the National Marine Fisheries Service assessment and the existing body of scientific evidence.

In 1970, the federal government listed the California gray whale as endangered. Its estimated population was 12,000. In 1994, gray whales were delisted when the population rose to 23,000. It was thought the whales had reached pre-whaling levels. Based on recent discoveries and observations, it is clear that gray whales are still at risk and that their pre-whaling populations were probably 85,000 to 115,000.

In 1999-2000, gray whales experienced a major die-off that is estimated to have wiped out one-third of their population. Observations of gray whales in the past year show large numbers of them are reaching their breeding grounds in Mexico malnourished and underweight. Bones are showing through their skin in a time of year when these animals should have a thick layer of blubber.

The assessment I call for must include all current research covering the migration route, population dynamics, threats to the species from human activities and the impact of climate change on critical feeding grounds.

It is my hope that this resolution will raise awareness about the threats facing gray whales and will encourage the federal and state governments to take immediate action to protect these majestic animals.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava represents the 35th Assembly District, including Oxnard, Ventura and Santa Barbara. He also serves as the state Assembly representative on the California Ocean Protection Council.

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