California’s gray whale is in danger. The California Fish and Game Commission has erroneously listed the gray whale population as “recovered.” 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. California is supposed to be a leader on environmental issues, including the protection of species – yet we lag behind other states.
Scientific findings regarding past whale populations, as well as recent observations of unhealthy gray whales, prove the species is still at risk, and there is no doubt the time for action is now. For this reason, I authored Assembly Joint Resolution 49. This resolution asks for action to be taken in order to ensure this species is not reduced further. AJR 49 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 their habitat. Additionally, the resolution asks the California Fish and Game Commission to 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. Their estimated population was about 12,000. In 1994, gray whales were de-listed when the population rose to 23,000. It was thought the whales had reached numbers similar to those before the business of whaling became prominent and began to decimate the species. Based on recent discoveries and observations, it is clear gray whales are still at risk and their pre-whaling populations were probably 85,000 to 115,000. Studies conducted at Stanford University and published by the National Academy of Sciences found the genetic variation in present gray whales could only have come from a pre-whaling population of that approximate size. This is nearly five times the previous estimate of historic populations that factored into the decision to take the species off the endangered species list.
In 1999 and 2000 – six years after they were taken off of the endangered species list – gray whales experienced a major die-off estimated to have wiped out one-third of their population. Observations of gray whales in the last year show large numbers of them are reaching their breeding grounds in Mexico malnourished and underweight. Bones are showing through their skin at 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. My resolution also asks that the National Marine Fisheries Service publish the results of the comprehensive assessment of the California gray whale and make the results available to the public. I also ask that the California 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.
It is my hope this resolution will raise awareness about the threats facing gray whales and will encourage both the federal and state government to take immediate action to protect these majestic animals.