More than ever before, critically endangered North Atlantic right whales have really stolen my heart this year. I felt it deeply when I heard about of Derecha’s calf being hit by a vessel and even more when it was repeated this year with Infinity and her newborn calf. So when WDC put together a petition asking for more protections for North Atlantic right whales against the top two threats they face, entanglements and vessel strikes, I was so excited! This is a chance for me to take action and do something for these endangered whales! I filled out the petition easy-peasy and shared it with my family and friends. I occasionally checked the webpage to see how many other people were signing – 2,000! 3,000! 4,000! Incredible to think what we can do when we get together and help share our voices for a species. Finally, we reached the deadline and I signed the petition…but now what happens? Well luckily, we have some incredible people on our staff to answer some of my questions so I called up Colleen, one of our policy pros.
Our petition might be closed but that doesn't mean you can't keep helping right whales! Raise your RIGHT hand and sign our pledge!
Sabrina: I signed WDC’s petitions to help right whales, now where does the petition get sent?
Colleen: It all depends on the petition! This specific petition (for North Atlantic right whales) was sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency responsible for management of marine mammals in the U.S. NMFS develops new regulations to protect whales and dolphins, is in charge of putting those regulations to work, and assessing them for any changes or updates that are needed. Both of our recent right whale actions were updates to existing regulations – to reduce entanglements and vessel strikes – that were in desperate need of updates and changes to be better for right whales.
Sabrina: That makes sense! So NMFS will see how many people want those regulations updated. But why does having a certain amount of signatures matter?
Colleen: Well because signatures = people who are using their voices to speak up for whales and dolphins, and more is always better! More people make a big difference. Federal agencies and people elected to office listen to and depend on input from the public. It lets politicians know what is important to their constituents, can encourage them to strengthen or change their position on an issue, or bring something to their attention that they may not have been aware of. Being able to say that we had four THOUSAND people who care about right whales- that’s a lot! That’s four thousand people asking NMFS to do more, and every person is one more voice putting pressure on the federal agency to take action.
Because I have an impatient puppy wanting to play right now, here’s my analogy: if you go to the park and one dog runs up to you with a ball, you might keep walking and ignore the dog. But if ten dogs run up to you asking to play, you might pay more attention!
Sabrina: I know I sure would pay attention if ten dogs came up to me! So you get the federal agecy and elected officials attention, but how does signing a petition help whales?
Colleen: Signing a petition is one of many ways (and usually the most straightforward way!) to participate in the public policy process, and to use your voice to speak up for whales and dolphins. If no one asks for change, then regulations are stuck where they are, and for some whale populations, like North Atlantic right whales, the status quo is leading to their extinction. They need things to change, and we need to speak up and demand that change.
Sharing a petition is also a great way to get your friends and family engaged. You felt connected with the struggles of Derecha and Infinity, and sharing their story may spark an interest in a friend who likes whales but didn’t know they were in trouble. Sharing petitions can be a good conversation starter and can encourage more people to speak up on issues that matter to them.
Sabrina: That is a really good point! Now that I know how petitions work, I see so many online. I get nervous about signing petitions though…what are some things I should look out for to see if they are legit or not?
Colleen: First, consider the source – is it from a known or trusted organization? Is the ask clear, concise, and meaningful? Who is the target of the petition? Making sure a petition is direct, clearly described, and has a target is one of the best ways to tell if it will be meaningful or not. For example, if someone shares a petition that just says “stop plastic pollution!” and is targeted to “people in charge” – you may agree with the intent, but the ask (how?) and the target (who?) isn’t clear, so the petition probably won’t make much of a difference.
At WDC, we usually err on the side of too much detail, but our petitions will always have a specific target (NMFS, a state or federal agency, or an elected official) and a clear ask (do these things to protect whales).