Self-described "whale-huggers" toughed chilling winds on the Santa Monica Pier on Sunday to restart a crusade they thought they'd won and to revise a familiar slogan: Save the Whales Again.
"We've been doing this too long, and now we're going to do it all over again. It's very tiresome," said John Perry, a sculptor who in the 1970s campaigned for a whaling ban with a 110-foot-long humpback whale balloon.
Perry was among about 120 people at the protest, one of 16 along the California coast targeting a proposal to lift the 1986 commercial whaling moratorium and set legal quotas for Japan, Norway and Iceland, the three nations that still hunt whales. The proposal aims to reduce the number of whales killed over 10 years, but opponents say it would reward rogue actions and legitimize hunting endangered species.
"It is a rationale that makes no sense," said Joel R. Reynolds, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Can we stop gang violence by allowing some gang warfare? The answer is no."
Reynolds and other speakers expressed incredulity that the Obama administration helped draft the proposal. As a candidate, Obama promised to strengthen the moratorium.
Environmentalists consider the ban, which has reduced the number of whales killed from 38,000 a year to fewer than than 2,000, a seminal achievement, and they do not want it weakened.
"If this can happen to whales, what does it mean in terms of our commitment to protecting this planet for the future?" asked Sara Wan, a coastal commissioner who arranged the protests with the Western Alliance for Nature.
Speakers included Jefferson Wagner, Malibu's surfing mayor ("Let's whale on the whalers"); Dick Russell, author of "Eye of the Whale" ("It is inherently, unacceptably cruel"); and Louie Psihoyos, director of "The Cove," a documentary on the slaughter of dolphins ("It just seems incredibly misguided").
Mati Waiya drew the most rapt attention. Adorned with feathers, a coyote pelt and whale-fluke paintings, the Chumash ceremonial elder burned sage, blew a conch and chanted blessings.
"If they die, we die," he said. "Be the warriors that lie within your spirit. Be the voice of these creatures that are suffering."