Driving down the coast from the Gaviota tunnel on Highway 101 is one of the greatest visual experiences a person can have.
Looking right you have the Pacific Ocean, and when the sun’s just right, dancing diamonds. On your left are spectacular hills and mountains.
Which may explain why there are so many crashes between Goleta and the Gaviota tunnel.
Those who regularly drive that stretch also know there are other sights in the ocean — blue and gray whales in the early winter and late spring, humpbacks just about anytime, and if you’re really lucky, maybe a pod or two of orcas, with babies in tow.
The Santa Barbara Channel welcomes dozens of species of whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters, sea birds and sea lions throughout the year. If you’ve never been on a whale-watching trip out into the channel, you should make the time to book one. Channel whale-watching excursions are some of the best in Southern California.
But you may want to book sooner, rather than later, because the Trump administration is taking inexplicable efforts to remove protection from some of the creatures named above. National Marine Fisheries Service officials have decided protecting threatened species from gill-net fishing is not warranted.
The protective regulation was created in 2015 to reduce the numbers of humpback whales, leatherback sea turtles and other large creatures that get tangled in mile-long nets set out overnight by commercial fishermen to catch swordfish. The rule had some regulatory teeth, allowing for shutting down swordfish fishing with such nets for up to two seasons if too many of the endangered animals were getting caught in the nets.
The rule was also quite specific, naming endangered fin, humpback and sperm whales, short-fin pilot whales and common bottlenose dolphins. Endangered leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, olive-ridley sea turtles and green sea turtles were also covered.
Some of those species have dwindled so that only a few hundred remain, making extinction a very real possibility — a probability unless someone can convince the Trump administration that the planet losing entire species of animals is a serious mistake.
Making such a commonsense case to President Trump won’t be easy, because for his administration it seems to be all about the money.
Gill-net fishing poses a dire threat to sea creatures. The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity said last year California-based gill net fishing for swordfish alone “catches and discards more than 100 protected whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions each year, in addition to thousands of sharks and other fish.” The California fishery is believed to kill more whales and dolphins than other fisheries along the West Coast and Alaska combined.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials say they decided to scrap the protection because “costs … far outweighed the benefits.” Further evidence that the impetus here is financial.
Considering the low numbers of some of these species’ populations, even a single death or injury is important. The Pacific leatherback turtle is the world’s most endangered marine turtle, with as few as 2,300 adult females left in the wild. Losing one female potentially lights the fuse on an environmental disaster.
The Discovery Channel recently highlighted the abundance of marine life in the Santa Barbara Channel, naming it one of the 10 best places in the world to view wildlife. And anyone who has ventured out into the channel on a whale-watching trip understands the importance of protecting these magnificent creatures, and has to wonder about the mentality of bureaucrats who would doom those creatures to save a few dollars.