Save the Whales Day draws a crowd

Coastline Pilot

An enthusiastic crowd responded Sunday to a rallying cry to raise awareness of and to declare opposition to the resumption of commercial whaling..

More than 75 people gathered at Main Beach in Laguna to sign petitions and video-tape a plea to President Obama to keep his pledge to support the moratorium on the business of hunting whales. The Orange County event was coordinated with 14 other coastal counties organized by the Western Alliance for Nature.

"We have a voice — whales don't," said Greenpeace representative Nick Hurley, who led the chant: "President Obama, keep your promise. Save the Whales."

The signatures were gathered to show popular opposition to the April 15 announcement by the United States that it was brokering an agreement to legalize commercial whaling. Quotas are to be left up to Iceland, Norway and Japan, which have been accused of violating the moratorium, in place since 1986.

"We've collected hundreds of signatures here," said local event organizer Penny Elia, clad in a Save the Whales T-shirt from a previous protest, among her various environmental activities.

"You know you have been doing it too long when you go into a drawer and say, which topic shall I wear today?" Elia said.

Petitions opposing commercial whaling and the video were to be forwarded to Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan, who founded the alliance with her husband, Larry, for transmission to Washington D. C..

The city of Laguna Beach co-sponsored the demonstration against commercial whaling.

"We are here to say that this will not happen," said City Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, who served as mistress of ceremonies for the event.

Laguna Beach was the only Orange County site for a demonstration and residents from surrounding communities braved the blustery, bone-chilling winds that blew off the white-capped Pacific Ocean to participate.

Monrovia residents Kathy Ashmore and her daughter, Laura, made the Save the Whales signs waved at drivers passing Main Beach Park.

"Save Japan Dolphins let me know about it," the elder Ashmore said.

Kaitlyn Huie, 17, said her mother received an e-mail telling about the event.

"We both wanted to come," the San Clemente High School student said.

Marilyn Broughton and Evalie Du Mars, two of a set of triplets, came from Corona Del Mar.

"We were told that this [Laguna] was where Orange County was meeting," Broughton said.

One and all, they came to register their protest and to hear the speakers.

"Japan killing 2,000 whales a year is not good — letting other countries slaughter whales is horrible," Hurley said.

Denise Penn, speaking for 35th District Assemblyman Pedro Nava, said whales are threatened by oil drilling and ocean pollution — the last thing they need is commercial hunting.

Besides, she said, whales are worth more alive than dead. They bring tourists.

"Japan could make more money whale watching than whale killing," said Doug Thompson, an author and organizer and leader of more than 100 natural history expeditions from Mexico to New Zealand.

The whales being hunted are the ones that swell the hearts of locals and visitors as they migrate past Laguna, Thompson said.

"We need to send two messages: no off-shore drilling and stop hunting whales," said Gerrie Schipske, Long Beach council member and executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County.

"It should not be lost that they are connected. We have to stop it."

Speaker Dave Anderson spent five years filming his award-winning documentary, "Wild Dolphins and Whales of Southern California, and worked with Laguna Beach filmmaker Greg McGillivray on his IMAX film, "Dolphins."

He was on the team that helped free the whale called Lily which fetched up in Dana Point Harbor tangled in a net.

"Thousands of dolphins and whales are caught in these nets," said Anderson, owner of Capt. Dave's Dolphin Safari in Dana Point.

"This is a moral issue. Most people in our country would agree it is not right. Others disagree."

Anderson said Japanese tourists on his boat saw a sperm whale, which is rare, but they still believe there is nothing wrong with catching and eating whales.

"In these days of scorched earth, we need to show we can save something," said San Clemente resident Mike Bursk, full-time captain of the Dana Point Ocean Institute R/V Sea Explorer for six years.

"I heard a 10-year-old kid walk off the boat saying, 'This changed my life,'" Bursk said.

Rebecca Robles, chair of the Sierra Club Native American Sacred Sites Task Force, said the whales need to be protected for the generations of children to come.

"What we do here to day will have a ripple effect," Robles said. "It will go out to Obama. It will go out to all our friends. What we are doing is important."

Thompson urged everyone to lodge their opposition to commercial whaling by calling (202) 456-1111, the Washington D.C comment line.

"Hearing these speakers has made me recommit to saving the whales," Rollinger said. "I am going to make that call over and over again until they get the message."

The event concluded with the protesters forming a circle and chanting their demand to Obama to keep his word.

However, the opposition must not flag, Elia said.

Letters to the president may be sent to the White House, 6000 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington D.C., 20500. Letters to California's senators may be sent to the Hart Senate Building, Washington D.C., 20510; Suite 112 for Sen. Barbara Boxer and Suite 331 for Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Rep. John Campbell may be reached at 1728 Longworth House Office Building at the same zipcode as the Senate, in Washington.

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