While a firsthand sighting of a blue whale along California’s coast has so far eluded Mount Madonna School (MMS) fifth grade students; this hasn’t diminished their passion for wanting to raise awareness about protecting these ocean giants from environmental and human-caused threats to their survival.
The students’ year-long, cross-curricular environmental project, received a welcome boost – and receptive ally – recently, as the class met via Zoom with California Congressman Jimmy Panetta, D-20, to share what they’d learned about these endangered whales, and ask Panetta to support the creation of a blue whale day.
“The blue whale is the biggest animal in the world, it’s very endangered and we want to do something so that will not go extinct while we are alive,” commented student Marlowe Yen.
“We think that if we can get help to make a national day recognizing blue whales it will help people to be more aware and to work to protect blue whales,” added classmate Jade McReynolds.
Classmate Minami Wu told Panetta that the students had formed a “company” for their project and are calling themselves the People of the Rockin’ Whale.
“We’re working to educate people about threats to blue whales by making a movie and designing a video game,” said Wu. “We’re working on a #CutTheCutlery campaign with our ninth grade big buddies to ask restaurants to give out less plastic cutlery, and working with the Save the Whales.”
“Here on the coast, the Monterey Bay and ocean is our ‘front yard,’ noted Panetta. “We love blue whales, and I think that some sort of recognition like this would be a good thing. Overall we’re feeling lucky and ‘spoiled’ around here with the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary nearby, full of lots of wildlife.
“And, I think you’re right,” Panetta continued, “this type of education and recognition could go a long way for enlisting support from those who don’t have the luxury of being so close to the ocean and access to seeing these animals in person. A national day for blue whales would be beneficial for our country.”
He asked the students if they’d reached out to other public servants.
“Every person in our class wrote eight letters to our representatives,” said fifth grader Trip Woodrow.
“We wrote to President Biden, the vice president, Governor Newsom, our federal and state senators and assembly members,” added classmate Sera Krawetz. Panetta received letters from fifth graders who reside in his district, while students who live in Morgan Hill or Gilroy wrote to Assemblymember Zoe Lofgren, D-19.
“Why did you decide to make a movie,” asked Panetta. “Why a video game?”
Students told Panetta that their movie, Ocean of Oz: A Whale of a Tale, will be an educational resource for environmental organizations to use in raising awareness, and that proceeds from selling copies will be donated to organizations working on whale conservation.
“We want to educate people and show all the threats to blue whales, such as ship strikes, entanglement, and plastic pollution,” shared student Aiden Powers. “Plastic gets swallowed with krill and gets clogged up inside the whales and they can’t get any nutrition so they starve.”
“Do you know,” added Woodrow, “that blue whales can eat an average of 88 pounds of plastic a day!”
Panetta acknowledged the students research and understanding of the threats to whales.
“You’re doing a good job of talking about the problems and how they affect the whales,” said Panetta, “and the solutions of how to address these problems.”
The students said they’d also asked state officials about creating a California blue whale day, but haven’t heard back yet. Fifth grader Rory Kayne asked Panetta about the process for creating a federal law to protect whales. Panetta obliged and described the process, and clarified that a national blue whale day would likely come as a Congressional resolution, and not enacted as law.
“I’d be happy to look into this and follow-up with you in the near future,” said Panetta, telling the students he may ask them for letters of support for such a resolution going forward.
The students – and Panetta – seemed really engaged in this personal civics lesson.
“How can Congress and citizens help stop pollution in the environment,” asked student Henry Anderson.
“Good question,” acknowledged Panetta. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to shrink our footprint when it comes to our trash. We each have an individual responsibility, and as legislators, we can help to incentivize people and industry using less plastic and more biodegradable materials.”
“I really appreciate your answering our questions and considering our blue whale day request,” said Sophia Krawetz. “And I want to know, of all your awards and accomplishments, which one are you most proud of?”
The Congressman didn’t hesitate.
“The creation of the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery in Seaside,” he said, “located on the former Fort Ord base.”
“What made you want to be a congressman?” asked fifth grader Sasha Kazarian.
“I realized that I could actively affect people’s lives by just doing my job,” answered Panetta, “By helping and making the federal government work for them. That’s what motivates me to continue to do this job.”
“Hopefully in working with you we can, together, protect the blue whale and our oceans,” said teacher Jessica Cambell.
“We share the Earth amongst ourselves and the wildlife,” observed Panetta. “The wildlife are our responsibility and we need to do everything we can to protect them.’
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,
Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.