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Six ways the new Old Spice ad violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act

This is art. Maybe. Probably. Old Spice has taken it upon themselves to ask the all-important question: How many different violations of the Marine Mammal Protection act can we demonstrate in a single minute and fifteen second commercial? As it turns out, quite a few.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act expressly forbids the “taking” of marine mammals, a “take” being defined as:

“To harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill any marine mammal. This includes, without limitation, any of the following:

  • the collection of dead animals, or parts thereof
  • the restraint or detention of a marine mammal, no matter how temporary
  • tagging a marine mammal
  • the negligent or intentional operation of an aircraft or vessel
  • the doing of any other negligent or intentional act which results in disturbing or molesting a marine mammal
  • feeding or attempting to feed a marine mammal in the wild.” 


Broadly, this include any actions that may interfere with a marine mammal’s behavior or cause it undue stress. Fines can be… severe.

1. Standing on top of a Sperm Whale requires a dangerously close approach. The MMPA forbids intentionally approaching within 300 feet of a large whale. Closer encounters are possible if the vessel is not under power and the whale approaches the vessel, but in order to load a sperm whale up with an actor or camera crew, a powered vessel would certainly have to make an intentionally close approach and come in contact with the animal. Don’t do this. Fines can be up to $20,000 and 1 year in jail, plus the seizure of any vessels used for the approach.

2. For that matter, you can’t stand on a whale. Even a dead one. This almost certainly will cause significant stress and alter the whale’s behavior. Whales are pretty big animals and standing on a live one can easily result in your own death. Dead whales are festering incubators for a ton of nasty bacteria which can make you extremely sick.  Fines are the same as above, but the whale will probably take care of you first.

3. Filling a Sperm Whale’s blowhole with baseballs is frowned upon. In addition to the obvious harassment, this is the whale equivalent of waterboarding or worse. The animal could drown, and you will definitely end up in jail.

4. Commercial photography of protect marine mammals requires a permit. If you want to make a close approach to take commercial or educational photographs of whale, which can be done, you need to apply for a permit. As it is inconceivable that the Marine Mammal Commission would issue a permit to whack tennis balls off the back of a Moby Dick, these photographers are in violation and may find all their cameras confiscated.

5. Operating an aircraft around marine mammals can be problematic. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting drone footage. Aircraft, drones included, must maintain at least 1000 feet of altitude above a marine mammal. Drones, of course, aren’t permitted to fly higher than 400 feet. So this one is a double whammy, since there’s currently no legal way to operate a drone near marine mammals. You’re either in violation of the MMPA or the FAA. Either way, the government now owns your drones.

6. Putting sunglasses on a whale. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Also, those frames don’t come anywhere close to a Sperm Whale’s eyes.

Figure 1. The actual location of a Sperm Whale's eye.

Figure 1. The actual location of a Sperm Whale’s eye.

Bonus: Disposal of trash at sea. The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships expressly the discharge of plastics anywhere in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone. This includes the polymers used in tennis balls and some baseballs.

Hopefully, the next time you decide to go on a whale-riding, ball-slinging, sunglasses-wearing adventure, consider observing these incredible animals from a respectful distance.

Marine science and conservation. Deep-sea ecology. Population genetics. Underwater robots. Open-source instrumentation. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.

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