Marine Mammal Defenders: What You Can Do

If you love dolphins, manatees, and marine mammals, these tips will help you observe Marine Mammal Rescue Day by learning how to protect them.

I still remember being on vacation in Florida as a small child and standing on the rail at the marina so I could look at the manatee swimming below. 

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As I stared at the white scars on their backs, a local shared that boat propellers caused them. 

It horrified me that boating was hurting these sweet, gentle animals, and the memory stuck with me.

Over thirty years later, these beloved animals face the same struggle. 

I took my children to the Lowery Zoo in Tampa, FL, where we learned about the stories of the manatees they are rehabbing, hoping to return to the ocean.

But it’s not just manatees that need protecting.

Marine mammals are up against old and new dangers.

Thankfully, there are simple things we can all do to help.

What are marine mammals?

Has it been a few years since school, and you wonder what a “marine mammal” is? 

The characteristics of marine mammals are they have lungs to breathe air, have hair (or do during a life stage), are warm-blooded, and produce milk for their young to nurse.

Common marine mammals include:

  • Whales
  •  Dolphins
  •  Porpoises
  •  Seals
  •  Sea lions
  •  Walrus
  •  Polar Bears
  •  Sea otters
  •  Manatees

Besides the above characteristics, marine mammals live mostly in or extremely close to the ocean. 

Their bodies are designed for extreme temperatures, pressure, darkness, and depths.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Marine mammals are classified into four different taxonomic groups: cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), and marine fissipeds (polar bears and sea otters).”

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The dangers marine mammals face

Maine mammals are up against many dangers today; some have been threats for centuries, while others are newer.

Some of the most common threats to marine mammals caused by humans include:

  • Boat and ship strikes
  •  Accidental capture in fishing nets
  •  Pollution
  •  Poaching
  •  Deteriorating of their habitats

Of course, marine mammals also face natural threats such as predators. 

Still, there is a growing danger to these animals caused by humans.

Here are a few statistics that may shock you:

  • 56% of whales, dolphins, and porpoises have consumed plastic, which can be fatal
  •  650,000 marine mammals are accidentally caught and die in fishing gear
  •  There are now 500 “dead zone” locations where marine life cannot exist

Are you ready to take action and help our marine mammals?

Here are five simple things we can all begin doing to protect dolphins, manatees, whales, and other marine mammals.

1. Reduce your use of plastic 

Our oceans see increasing amounts of trash, including plastic, which endangers ocean life and marine mammals. 

According to The Marine Mammal Center, 90 percent of that trash is plastic.

There are many ways that plastic is harming our marine mammals.

They can become entangled in plastic, which can cause them to suffocate, starve, and drown.

Some marine mammals mistake plastic for prey, consume it, and die when it is trapped in their stomachs.

Plastic trash in the ocean also causes lacerations and injuries to these animals, which makes it difficult for them to swim or leads to infection and death.

By reducing your consumption of plastic—and properly disposing of or recycling what you use—you can help keep it out of our oceans and protect marine mammals.

2. Help clean up the beaches

If you visit the beach, clean up after yourself. It’s as simple as leaving the beach like you found it—or better than you found it.

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Do not leave trash or objects on the beach. Because of the wind, the tide, and other circumstances, anything you leave on the beach can end up in the water.

Any foreign objects in the water have the potential to impact or harm what’s living in the water, including marine mammals like dolphins, manatees, and sea lions.

Many organizations organize events to help clean up the beaches and protect ocean life and marine mammals.

If you live or visit a beach, look for organizations you can connect with to join their efforts.

But you can also simply clean up a small part of a beach alone.

You can also take it a step further and help clean up after those who don’t pick up their messes.

3. Follow boating laws

Knowing and following the laws is essential whether you live near the ocean and waterways or only travel there occasionally. 

They are in place for a reason.

For example, certain waterways are protected areas with speed restrictions for boaters. 

Following these rules can help keep marine mammals like manatees safe.

Other common restrictions include staying 100 yards away from whales and 50 yards away from sea lions, seals, dolphins, and porpoises. 

However, it’s a federal law to stay 500 yards away from the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

It’s also advised not to crowd marine mammals when you see them. 

If there are already boats observing them, then wait your time and limit your time to give others a chance to watch them.

It’s also essential to reduce your speed and keep your engine neutral if a marine mammal approaches your boat, including dropping your sails in a sailboat.

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Other recommendations and best practices to keep in mind include:

  • Never chasing a marine mammal
  •  Do your best not to split up a mother and her young
  •  Leave the area if the animal seems stressed in any way
  •  Contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 if you hit a marine mammal
  •  Contact local authorities if you see an animal that looks in need of help

4. Support sustainable fishing

Sustainable fishing is a practice that allows us to enjoy seafood while protecting the ocean ecosystem.

Overfishing can eliminate certain fish species, which has a domino effect on other wildlife.

If you enjoy fishing, follow all local laws only to catch and keep what you’re allowed.

In addition, if you enjoy eating seafood, do your homework and only buy from fisheries that follow sustainable fishing practices.

Doing so helps ensure we are not eliminating fish species so there will be plenty for future generations of seafood lovers and the food supply for marine mammals.

5. Educate yourself

Learn more about the ocean and marine wildlife. 

Reading a quick article and moving on with your busy life is easy, but I encourage you to take it further. 

When we truly learn about a topic, it helps us understand its importance.

Dedicate time to learning about marine mammals and why we need to act to protect them and our oceans.

Visit educational aquariums working on rehabbing and protecting these animals to learn what you can do to make a difference.

Enjoy the beauty of marine mammals

The world is full of incredible animals, including in our oceans. 

If you can see them, be in awe of the wonders of creation. 

And in your daily life, consider your choices’ impact on the people, animals, and the world around you.

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