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July 24, 2010

Dear Friends,

I have just returned from a much-needed vacation and am happy to report that collectively we have achieved an enormous victory for great whales worldwide. A controversial proposal that would have legalized whaling for Japan, Iceland and Norway was defeated at last month's International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco. Concerned individuals, animal lovers, and environmental groups worldwide fought to maintain the 1982 global moratorium on commercial whaling. Against all odds, we prevailed! After several years of closed-door negotiations, the Obama Administration and other conservation-minded governments wisely said no to this new proposal designed to legalize commercial whaling and approve quotas to kill whales in an international whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean.

This last minute reprieve is good news for whales, but they aren’t saved yet. Whales face more threats today than ever before…from entanglement in marine debris and fishing gear, to ship strikes, noise pollution, ozone depletion, global warming, ocean acidification, and pollution and contaminates--particularly toxic metals. Roger Payne’s Institute, Ocean Alliance, has just released a report from their 5-year voyage around the world measuring baseline levels of toxic metals and POPs (persistent organic pollutants--substances like DDT, PCBs and fire retardants) in the skin and blubber of sperm whales. They brought back 955 sperm whale biopsy samples from all the world’s oceans.

Marine toxicologists John Wise at the University of Southern Maine and Maria Christina Fossi at Italy’s Sienna University analyzed these samples. They concluded that sperm whales are contaminated wherever they are found--even in ocean regions that lie far from major industry and corporate agriculture. Research indicates the worst problem to be chromium--a major carcinogen. (The film "Erin Brockovich" is about chromium pollution.) Roger chose to study sperm whales because they live at the top of the ocean food chain, in all oceans. Humans also live at the top of ocean food chains, which means that what is happening to sperm whales may also be happening to us.

As for whaling, the moratorium on commercial whaling (which has saved tens of thousands of whales worldwide) and the creation of the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary in 1994 were both attained with high level, bi-partisan support from the United States. That same level of leadership and commitment is needed again now, following the International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco to secure previous gains, end illegal / commercial whaling, and to put the International Whaling Commission on course for a sustainable, conservation-based future.

Our current administration must now implement a new agreement and pass legislation (H.R.2455 The International Whale Conservation and Protection Act of 2009) that will guarantee both the conservation and the rehabilitation of whale populations for generations to come. The health of the oceans and the ocean ecosystem will be greatly diminished if we do not protect these majestic creatures (some of the most endangered species in the world).

The vast majority of Americans support whale conservation. They recognize that whales are of great aesthetic and scientific interest to mankind and are a vital part of the marine ecosystem. Thus, we need to influence, persuade and sometimes pressure our government to:

* Encourage Japan, Iceland and Norway, the last three countries killing whales to halt the international trade in whale products and to join the global movement for whale conservation. As whales migrate throughout the world's oceans, international cooperation is essential to successfully protect them.

* Join Australia, New Zealand and other nations in funding state-of-the-art, non-lethal research on whales and their habitats.

* Work through the IWC conservation committee to advance state-of-the art conservation plans that safeguard threatened whale species and populations.

* Reform and recast the IWC as a more transparent and accountable "International Whale Commission" with a clear and compelling conservation mandate for the 21st century.

* Restore the primacy of the IWC scientific committee as the recognized international authority on whale conservation science and engage its expertise to improve human understanding of whales and the numerous threats they face.

* Consider environmental issues related to climate change as well as the possible adverse effects from high intensity anthropogenic sound, and new offshore industrial developments for energy projects.

I am often asked: how can I help?

The answer is simple: use your voice. Stand up for what you believe is right. Ask our President and your state representatives to pass legislation to protect whales and their habitat.

Everything begins with education. The most important thing anyone can do is to align themselves with an environmental organization that is committed to issues they believe in. We work with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Ocean Alliance because of their interest in protecting marine mammals and the oceans.

Next up I am heading back east to make a picture called St. Vincent, which I will produce with my partner Beau Marie St. Claire, at Irish DreamTime. The action-thriller, written by Cameron Young, and directed by Walter Hill, details the story of an Irish hit man returning to his former New York City neighborhood to terminate an informant. In order to get close to his target, the hit man is forced to masquerade as a priest and soon he finds himself taking the confession of the informant …and discovering GOD.

Last spring I made a new film titled "Salvation Boulevard" based on a novel of the same name, written by Larry Beinhart, (who also wrote, "Wag the Dog"). "Salvation Boulevard" was directed by George Radliff and follows a former Deadhead-turned-born-again-Christian who finds himself on the run from fundamentalist members of his mega church who will do anything to protect their pastor (yours truly). Greg Kinnear, Ed Harris, Marisa Tomei, Sam Elliot, Jim Gaffigan, and Jennifer Connolly contributed to this hilarious all-star cast.

Wishing you a great summer ahead.

See you at the movies.

Love and only love,

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