Subject: Case Study:Bostonian Moves To Protect Wha (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 08:02:07 -0400 (EDT)

 Associated Press Writer
   BOSTON (AP) -- Richard Max Strahan speaks in contradictions.
   He says he's a pauper. He says he's a prince: the "Prince of
   He describes the animals he is crusading to protect -- northern
right whales -- as "abandoned babies" nobody else wants. But he
also admits he'd abandon those babies to play guitar for the
American rock band Guns N' Roses.
   He proclaims he is widely known because of his efforts to give
the 300 remaining whales a slim chance of survival. But then he
refuses to talk about himself -- where he's from, where he's been.
   Yet, there is Richard Max Strahan, the enigmatic person who
almost single-handedly forced the state of Massachusetts, the
National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Coast Guard,
whale-watching vessels and New England fishermen and lobstermen to
protect right whales.
   "Max, despite what some people say, is at the helm of the issue
and is steering the feds and the state on this," said Jay
McCaffrey, conservation director of the state chapter of the Sierra
   But the targets of Strahan's lawsuits accuse him of focusing
attention on less common threats to the whales. Meanwhile, the
major threats -- collisions with tankers, freighters and barges --
   "His accusations, tactics and proposed remedies should be cause
for great alarm," Peter Borrelli, executive director of the Center
for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, said in a recent newsletter.
"He is filing nuisance suits in federal court that have done more
to obscure the real issues than to save the whales."
   Andrew Rosenberg, NMFS regional director, said Strahan hasn't
raised any issues not already addressed by the Endangered Species
Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, both of which the agency is
required to enforce.
   Instead, he said, Strahan simply has sped up some of the
timetables for enforcement.
   "I think you would be hard pressed to say the whales are better
off," Rosenberg said. "It's not always best to do things at kind
of a breakneck pace and under enormous pressure."
   Strahan has quite a different opinion, and he often expresses it
in off-color language. In fact, some say he takes the bumper
sticker approach too close to heart.
   At least one state agency has a restraining order against
Strahan for alleged harassment, the New England Aquarium has banned
him and NMFS avoids his calls because of previous vitriolic
   During a recent conversation, Strahan lambasted several
politicians, fishermen, lobstermen, environmental groups and even
some of those scientists devoting their professional lives to the
right whales.
   The charcoal-colored animals have been on Earth at least 10
million years, long before humans. Usually identified by the series
of small bumps on their heads, the whales can reach a length of 55
feet, weigh 70 tons and live more than 50 years.
   Once numbering in the thousands, they were hunted nearly to
extinction during centuries of American whaling to create corsets,
parasols, lamp oil, lubricants and soaps.
   Despite international protections, only about 300 northern right
whales remain. That's why anyone perceived as impeding the whales'
recovery earns a tongue-lashing from Strahan.
   "When this whale is in trouble, there's a spiritual connection
that says I'm in trouble," he said. "That's what motivates me."
   Strahan said he comes from a family of environmentalists and has
worked on campaigns to protect spotted owls, salamanders and
   He won't reveal anything about his life prior to 1985. He is
believed to be in his late 30s or early 40s.
   "I just want to keep the focus on the whale," he said. "I'm
the `mystery man.' This is the `mystery campaign.'"
   Strahan enrolled in Boston University's Metropolitan College in
1983 but didn't earn a degree. He also has a lengthy criminal
record -- including trespassing, larceny and fraud -- earned while
national campaign director for GreenWorld, an environmental group
that today has only one member: him.
   Newspapers in Springfield and Boston have reported that Strahan
spent GreenWorld money on lingerie, camera equipment, a health club
and courses at the University of California at Berkeley. He also
hasn't filed the mandated annual fund-raising reports with the
   Strahan appeared on the environmental radar screen in the 1980s
when he petitioned the federal government to list the spotted owl
as an endangered species, setting off heated debate in the Pacific
   In 1994, he sued the Coast Guard in federal court in Boston for
allegedly violating international and federal laws by killing right
whales with their vessels. The Coast Guard last year was ordered to
change its operations to accommodate the whales.
   In 1995, Strahan sued state Environmental Affairs Secretary
Trudy Coxe, claiming Massachusetts was responsible for fishing
activities in state waters that threatened right whales. The state
since has curtailed fishing in Cape Cod Bay when the whales are
   In 1996, he sued the Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of
Commerce, claiming they weren't enforcing prohibitions against the
whales' entanglement in fishing gear. Recently, NMFS proposed the
use of fishing gear that "breaks away" when tugged.
   "For better or worse, he's done a pretty good job of
accomplishing his mission," said John Rodman, Massachusetts'
assistant secretary of environmental affairs.
   But Strahan wants more, including limiting access to lobstering
and fishing along the New England coast.
   "We need the fishermen zero," he said. "These are the killers
of these whales.
   "Gillnetting is going bye-bye," he said.
   However, scientists like Scott Kraus of the New England Aquarium
document only two right whale deaths from entanglement in the last
two decades. They also say the whales may go extinct anyway because
of genetic problems from inbreeding.
   Armed with those facts, beleaguered fishermen say they again are
being unfairlyStrahan is a public enemy for saying he wants to shut
down that state's $100 million lobster industry.
   "Literally, whole communities are dependent on these
fisheries," said Robin Alden, Maine's commissioner of marine
resources. "To be facing this is very hard to take."
   Alden said Strahan has been instrumental in getting NMFS to
adhere to marine mammal protection timetables, banted it," he said. "You just
can't put it down when you
know you're the only one between it and extinction."