Coast Guard Reminds Public about Interfering with Whale Rescue Efforts

RIO VISTA, Calif. – Officials from the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) today reminded the public that any individuals or groups interfering with whale rescue efforts or violating the 500-yard safety zone established for the mother and her calf could face severe civil and criminal penalties.

“Thousands of people have expressed their concern for the safety of the whales and offered suggestions on how we can encourage them to return to the Pacific,” said Captain Dave Fox of DFG, who is serving as state incident commander in the multi-agency rescue effort. “We appreciate their suggestions; however, it is critical that members of the public not jeopardize the safety of the whales and rescuers by taking action on their own.”

Various independent researchers have stated their intent to broadcast underwater sounds to the humpback whales on their own. Such actions could pose a significant threat to the health of the whales and compromise the rescue efforts. Individuals interfering with rescue operations, entering the safety zone or harassing the whales are subject to fines of up to $20,000 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and up to $50,000 under the Endangered Species Act.

“Whales are federally protected animals and humpbacks are an endangered species,” noted Fox. “The agencies involved in the rescue effort have a mandate to protect them and we intend to strictly enforce the laws protecting them.”

In response to the whales’ predicament, state and federal officials have received more than 2,200 suggestions from the public through the public comment line, 1-916-869-4661, and via email at sacramento.whales@noaa.gov.

“The public’s outpouring of concern and support for the whales has been tremendous but overwhelming. We sincerely appreciate all the interest, suggestions and well wishes we have received,” said NOAA’s Joe Cordaro, whale rescue team coordinator. “The public’s recommendations and suggestions are being reviewed for consideration by the rescue team, but we are unable to respond to them individually.”

“It is extremely important that the public use the telephone line and email address established for public comment and inquiries regarding the whales in the Sacramento River,” said Lt. Commander Sean Ryan of the USCG. “The Coast Guard’s emergency line, the Marine Mammal Center hotline and lines belonging to other stranding network organizations must remain available for calls regarding other critical response needs.”

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