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Zak Smith, Attorney, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Santa Monica

Zak Smith

I grew up in two areas that have a lot in common but couldn’t be more different: Whitefish, Montana, and Yucca Valley, California. Whitefish is a small town, nestled in the northwest corner of Montana, next to Glacier National Park. It sits on a beautiful lake at the base of Big Mountain Ski Resort. I spent my teenage years in another small town, Yucca Valley, at the southern border of the Mojave Desert, next to Joshua Tree National Park. While both towns are small and rural, next to beautiful national parks, their environments are stark contrasts – forested mountains with rivers and streams in Montana and cactus-filled valleys and arroyos in southern California.

College (UC Berkeley – Go Bears!), grad school (Johns Hopkins), and law school (UCLA) brought me to urban environments, where I explored history, international economics, and environmental law. Along the way, I found my way to NRDC and enjoy working on issues that make a difference, from saving endangered wildlife and wild places, keeping all of our footprints (not only carbon) as small as possible, and being smart about our limited resources. I do my part by working to protect whales and dolphins from dangerous noise pollution (including sonar) and polar bears from extinction.

Recent Posts

This Week in Whales: Oil Spills Are Bad from BP Disaster to Santa Barbara; Designing Whale-Friendly Fishing Gear...

Posted May 22, 2015 by Zak Smith

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(Photo by NOAA/Refugio Response Incident Command) Ready to have your world turned upside down? Turns out the Deepwater Horizon spill contributed to a record number of dolphin deaths in the Gulf. I know, shocking, right? Anyway, a study published...continued

This Week in Whales: Good News/Bad News for Vaquita; Blue Whales in Danger of Ship Strikes but NASA May Be Coming to the Rescue; Well-Deserved Award for Book on Navy Sonar Fight...

Posted May 15, 2015 by Zak Smith

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Yay for the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute's petition to the World Heritage Committee to designate vaquita (a small porpoise species found only in the northernmost part of the Gulf of California with fewer than 100...continued

This Week in Whales: Dolphins Spend More Energy to Be Heard; Humpbacks No Longer Endangered?; Fishing Gear Traps Whales in PacNW...

Posted April 30, 2015 by Zak Smith

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Dolphins expend extra energy to get heard in noisier waters - A study released last week by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center and UC Santa Cruz found that dolphins expend extra energy to raise their voices to be heard in...continued

Court Rules for Whales in Case Challenging Navy Activities in the Pacific

Posted March 30, 2015 by Zak Smith

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Is this whale trying to high-five someone? (Photo Credit NOAA SEFSC). Today, the U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii, found that the National Marine Fisheries Service - the agency charged with protecting marine mammals - violated multiple requirements of...continued

U.S. Navy Is Suspect in Pacific Whale Strandings

Posted March 30, 2015 by Zak Smith

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Almost a year to the day after a mass stranding of beaked whales in Crete, Greece, a very similar story is unfolding in Guam. Last year, my colleague Michael reported on a mass stranding of beaked whales along the...continued

This Week in Whales Focus: The Call to Ban Mexican Seafood Products Gets Louder After Mexico Announces its Plan for Vaquita Extinction

Posted March 16, 2015 by Zak Smith

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(Photo by NOAA) At the end of February, Mexico announced a plan to keep the vaquita--a small porpoise species found only in the northernmost part of the Gulf of California--from going extinct. Unfortunately, Mexico's plan amounts to nothing more...continued

Things Are Getting Harder for Polar Bears (Except Where They'd Most Appreciate It)

Posted January 27, 2015 by Zak Smith

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The latest bad news for polar bears focuses on a potential link between low-density penis bones and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A team of researchers out of Denmark studied the penis bones or baculums of nearly 300 polar bears born...continued

I'm Thankful for Quality Science: A Roadmap for Polar Bear Conservation

Posted November 26, 2014 by Zak Smith

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Last week, the Los Angeles Times published an article entitled “40% decline in polar bears in Alaska, western Canada heightens concerns,” detailing a population study of the southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population from 2001 to 2010. Why am...continued

This Week in Whales Focus: NGOs Petition the Mexican President to Save the Vaquita in Advance of Major Decision

Posted November 21, 2014 by Zak Smith

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For years, people have been working furiously to save the vaquita—a small porpoise species found only in the northernmost part of the Gulf of California. Today, fewer than 100 individuals remain and they are declining at a rate of 18.5...continued

European Union and Norway Promise Additional Actions to Protect Polar Bears

Posted November 11, 2014 by Zak Smith

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On Sunday, November 9, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals adopted a Norwegian proposal to list polar bears on Appendix II of the Convention, which requires Norway and other members to enter into agreements that...continued

This Week in Whales: Obama Creates Largest Marine Reserve; IWC Votes Against Japan's Antarctic Hunt; Newborn Killer Whale Spotted in WA...

Posted September 25, 2014 by Zak Smith

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This week marks more than just the return of This Week in Whales. We’re also cheering President Obama’s creation of the largest fully protected marine reserve in the world and the birth of the first killer whale in Washington waters...continued

We Need President Obama to Save Whales from Navy Exercises

Posted July 25, 2014 by Zak Smith

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This week, the Natural Resources Defense Council launched a petition drive asking President Obama to protect whales from deadly sonar and explosives. It’s action the world’s marine mammals desperately need. At home, the Navy is engaged in exercises that...continued

Navy War Games May Be Disrupting More than Just Animals in Hawaii

Posted July 21, 2014 by Zak Smith

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The Navy’s day-to-day training activities wreak havoc on the marine life unfortunate enough to be nearby. This is doubly true for their war games. And now, whales and dolphins may not be the only mammals impacted, as the latest...continued

We've Waited Long Enough: The US Must Act to Save Whales and Dolphins from Dying in Foreign Fishing Gear

Posted July 2, 2014 by Zak Smith

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  Each year, more than 650,000 whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals are caught or seriously injured in fishing gear around the world. Entangled in nets, wrapped in fishing lines, or snagged on fishing hooks, these animals either drown or...continued

Polar Bears Candidate for International Protection as a Migratory Species

Posted June 12, 2014 by Zak Smith

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Last week, Norway submitted a proposal to give polar bears greater protection through the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (known as “CMS”). If the members to the convention accept Norway’s proposal at their 11th...continued


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