Ensure the Return of Porpoises to San Francisco Bay

Target: John Muller, Board Chair of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board

Goal: Strictly enforce water quality standards in the San Francisco Bay in order to ensure the full return of porpoises to the area

Very recently, Harbor porpoises have been spotted in the San Francisco Bay after nearly 70 years of absence. The porpoises, which are about 5 feet long and easy to spot with dark gray backs, have been steadily increasing their numbers in the area. In fact, researchers have identified around 250 porpoises in the bay, noting unique features such as scars or other unusual markings in order to differentiate between individuals. Porpoises originally began disappearing from the San Francisco Bay as far back as during World War II. Scientists and researchers believe this steady decline was driven in part by the transition of the bay into a wartime port, meaning increased ship traffic, mines and nets to keep out enemy submarines. However, the most likely factor that led to the decrease in San Francisco’s porpoise population was probably a steady rise in water pollution that began with increased industry during World War II and continued even after. According to Bill Keener, a member of the local non-profit group Golden Gate Cetacean Research, “raw sewage used to flow right into the bay.” However, this ended with the Clean Water Act of 1972, which helped to enable the steady, albeit slow, improvement of water quality in the bay.

Now, the return of porpoises to San Francisco Bay means that overall water quality in the area has most likely improved substantially in the past 30 years. This has allowed the return of large populations of herring and anchovies, which, in turn, has drawn the porpoises to return. However, that is not to say that there is no longer any pollution in the San Francisco Bay. Major corporations, such as C&H Sugar and Tesoro Refining are still heavy polluters in the area. Furthermore, smaller companies, including sewage treatment plants and other factors like urban runoff still play a major role in less-than-perfect water quality. It is essential, therefore, that the city of San Francisco require strict enforcement of the Clean Water Act in order to ensure that the return of Harbor porpoises to the bay is not temporary. Ask that the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board be rigid in the enforcement of the Clean Water Act, and thus allow the newly returned population of Harbor porpoises to flourish.


Dear John Muller,

The return of Harbor porpoises to the San Francisco Bay is an encouraging sign. The recent sightings of nearly 250 of these porpoises prove that, since the Clean Water Act of 1972, overall water quality of the bay has drastically improved. This alone is heartening, as these cetaceans have not been prevalent in the area since the 1930s. However, there is still much to do in order to ensure that these creatures survive and flourish once again the San Francisco Bay.

Major corporations, as well as small companies, still produce ample pollution that winds up in the bay, tainting the quality of the water. If not strictly regulated, this pollution could lead once again to the decline and eventual disappearance of Harbor porpoises. Therefore, I urge you to encourage strict enforcement of the Clean Water Act, and work to cut down water pollution in the San Francisco Bay. In this way, you can ensure the survival and prosperity of the Harbor porpoise population, and protect a valuable member of the bay’s ecosystem.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Robert Campbell via Wikimedia Commons

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