Wildlife Law Conference addresses everything from sonar to seals

03/12/10 Kate Bradshaw
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When it comes to legal protections, animals can be at a disadvantage. But some legal experts are gathering in Gulfport trying to beef up what’s known as “Wildlife Law.”

Today Stetson University College of Law held the first day of its International Wildlife Law Conference. Among the clusters of men in pressed designer suits, Stetson Law professor Peter Fitzgerald stood out.

Fitzgerald was discussing the legal dispute between Canada and the European Union over the EU’s ban on the importing seal furs and flesh. Attached to the waist of his kilt was what looked like a leather purse.

He said that Scottish cultural leaders were up in arms upon hearing of the ban.

One of the big questions, Fitzgerald said, that rises from allowing trade in seal fur and meat to continue on traditional grounds was where it ends. He said that while protecting seals seems like a no-brainer, other species might not garner as much human sympathy. Starting with seals, he said, might help animal rights be perceived and applied more broadly.

Cetaceans are another group perennially in the wildlife spotlight. Scientists have found that a wide range of maritime practices are impacting whale, dolphin, and porpoise populations. Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine scientist with Humane Society International, said that despite clear evidence that Navy sonar is detrimental to whale populations, little is being done to mitigate this. Protecting sensitive areas, she said, is key.

Rose did say that the Navy is working with environmental non-governmental organizations to identify sensitive zones wherein they will not conduct training exercises. She said that the sensitive habitat “zoning” would not apply in wartime.

Another threat to the normal functioning of cetaceans, said Dr. Veronica Frank, a marine campaigner with International Fund for Animal Welfare, is a phenomenon that gets less press: that is, noise from underwater shipping.

Frank added that it’s on course toward getting worse.

In 2008, she said, that an international consortium resolved to reduce the overall noise level from commercial shipping by three decibels. She said the reduction would be easy and would actually make overseas shipping cost less.

Other discussions explored topics ranging from the market for lemur meat in Madagascar to issues hitting closer to home. One of these was how to best manage commercial fisheries amid a challenging economy. Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Administrator Luiz Barbieri said that red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico was an example of a threatened population in need of monitoring that also contributes to the livelihood of some. The conference will continue at Stetson Law’s Gulfport campus through Saturday.

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