Right now on Monterey Bay, along the central coast of California, tickets ranging up to $32,000 are being written to anyone caught “harassing” a humpback whale.
Let me begin by stating up front that I’m all for saving the whales—in fact, I personally want to collect the whole set. But, whale harassment?
The excessive penalties have been created to protect all species in the Monterey Bay, which, thanks to Al Gore, is a national marine sanctuary overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Society (NOAA).
Currently the huge humpbacks, which average about 45 feet long, are enjoying a feeding frenzy in the bay, and they’re venturing in to dine just hundreds of yards from the beach. Sightseeing boats, pleasure craft, and even kayaks, are taking rides out to mingle with the creatures and take photographs, up close and personal. Having witnessed this whole scene from the shore, it’s pretty clear to me the whales are not being bothered in the least by the onlookers.
Yes, it’s true that with the flip of a tail, one of these whales could seriously injure someone, but that’s yet to occur. And if it did happen, it seems to me that the injured spectator should receive a Darwin Award, not pay a multi-thousand-dollar fine.
Officially, harassment is defined as “approaching” wildlife. So, if a whale-watcher is simply floating idly in the water, and a whale pops up next to his or her craft, that’s not considered a violation. However, that same person seen moving toward a whale will be hit with a minimum ticket of $2,500, written by a member of the Coast Guard.
As a taxpayer, I’d rather see the Coast Guard chasing drug traffickers, as opposed to whale watchers. I would also like to see NOAA, an agency created by executive order in 1970, stick to doing one thing that we can all agree on: forecasting the weather really well. NOAA’s National Weather Service requires a reasonable $700 million each year to track hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards—and they do a heck of a job. But the rest of NOAA’s $5.5 billion annual budget is spent on things such as keeping the largest creatures on Earth from being bullied by humans armed with cameras.