Dolphins Don’t Smoke

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By Carisa Carlton

dolphins don't smokeAfter purchasing two Groupons for a 5-hour fishing trip with my father, I couldn’t have been more excited about the day we had planned on Orange County waters with Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching. But, as I reeled in a baby mackerel, my largest catch of the day, the guy next to me flicked his cigarette butt into the water. I kept telling myself, “Remain calm. Do not feed him to the pelicans.” Then another man tossed his cigarette butt overboard while we were anchored west of Thousand Steps Beach. Then another. 6 cigarette butts were thrown into the water on just the starboard side of the boat.  “Breathe…,” I thought, not wanting to embarrass my father with a scene.

I looked around at the skippers and they were busy detangling fishing lines and helping net small fish. It didn’t appear that they took notice of what was happening with the smokers. No preventative measures, such as signs or ashtrays, were taken to control cigarette butt litter on board. They had a rather large rubbish bin on board, but still no place to extinguish cigarettes.

Tiffany E. (surname declined) at Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching informed me they run 9 fishing trips per week on average.  When questioned about their cigarette disposal policy on board, Tiffany E. hesitated, “Ummmm…..,well, I guess smokers can throw their ashes in the ocean.”

“What about the cigarette butts,” I asked.

She responded, “They’d have to throw the butts in the trash.”

But the problem is that many smokers do not throw cigarette butts in the trash bin. And, how can smokers throw their cigarette butts into the trash bin without starting a fire if the boat operators provide no way to extinguish the cigarette beforehand?

“It is the small pieces of trash like cigarette butts that go unnoticed and often times the most harmful to sea life. Marine litter ingestion is one of the primary kinds of damage to wildlife because fish, birds, and marine mammals mistake them for food. Most often you can find cigarette butts in the sand in front of hotels, near park benches, close to trashcans, and high up in the corners of the beaches where the tide washes them.” - Eco-Warrior, James Pribram

San Diego Coastkeeper considers cigarette butts “one of the most prevalent debris issues throughout San Diego County’s beaches.” Yet, it is clear to me that no specific protocol is established to manage cigarette disposal; and, no employee environmental training or awareness is in place to adequately manage the proper disposal of cigarette butts on recreational vessels. I would like to see a change sooner than later.

If 6 cigarette butts are flicked overboard each fishing trip, our fish and marine mammals, are faced with over 2,800 cigarette butts in their face each year from just one marine recreational sport fishing vessel.

According to Brian Owens at California Department of Fish and Wildlife, boat captains are not liable for what their guests toss overboard.  Instead, the individual is liable for fines and subject to arrest. But, as the Southern California game warden pointed out to me, they have to see the act in progress before they can take any action. This governance, or lack thereof, provides no motivation for captains to control their patrons and you can bet recreational vessel captains do not report their guests’ conduct to authorities.

Laguna Beach Gazette eelCigarette butts can leach chemicals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic into our marine environment within an hour of contact with water.* Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, whales, birds and other marine animals which leads to ingestion of hazardous chemicals and digestive blockages. The pieces can get lodged in an animal’s intestinal tract or build up in its stomach, which can often lead to the animal’s death.**

Because marine mammals like dolphins are at the top of the food [chain], and because they have the most blubber which is where toxins concentrate, they build up the highest levels of contaminants. The effect of these contaminants on marine mammals include: tumors, immune system breakdown resulting in outbreaks of viruses, abnormal growth, and reproductive disorders such as still births, and calf mortality due to toxins passing through the mothers milk.***

 I would like to see three things happen:

1) Marine recreational vessels fined $10,000 for each cigarette thrown into the ocean (and those fines used to support organizations dedicated to beach clean-ups and the organizations dedicated to rehabilitating marine mammals that suffer from litter ingestion);

2) A mandate requiring marine recreational vessels to provide a convenient process for disposing of cigarettes, such as numerous secured ashtrays; and

3) A mandate requiring marine recreational vessels to post signs warning would-be ocean polluters that disrespect for our ocean will not be tolerated.

Have better solutions? Leave your comments below.

CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide Fish and Wildlife with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters. They also offer rewards for information leading to arrests.  Use your smart phone video to document incidents.

 Share this article if you want better management of marine litter.


*McLaren, W. (2005, October 20). Cigarette Butts: One Huge Problem, Two Solutions via Leave The Pack Behind
**Ebersole, R.S. (2000). Butt Heads on Beaches. Audubon, 102 (4), 18.
***Whales Alive


 © Laguna Beach Gazette. All Rights Reserved.


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Author: Carisa Carlton

Carisa Carlton is the Editor in Chief of Laguna Beach Gazette. Learn more about Carlton at .

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  1. You mentioned in your article that you didn’t want to embarrass your father by making a scene. Don’t you think he would’ve been proud of you, had you stood up for the conservation of the ocean? I, myself, certainly would’ve said something to the people who were throwing cigarettes into the ocean. It takes more than just the boat crew to enforce this. We all need speak up for the marine animals that can’t speak for themselves.

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  2. Dana Wharf responds to “Dolphins Don’t Smoke”

    Dana Wharf Sportfishing read your article and we were very sad and disappointed to see that a few customers are able to cast such a large shadow. As the owners of Dana Wharf we take all complaints seriously and your article is no exception given our sincere concern for marine life. It’s part of our business model to protect and preserve our ocean resources and core to our continued operation.

    To clarify, our customers are allowed to smoke on deck on our vessels. We don’t encourage or promote smoking which explains why we don’t have ashtrays on board. When customers ask about smoking on board they are told exactly what to do with cigarette butts. Our captains and crew advise them to put them out and throw them away in one of the many trash cans on deck. We estimate that 90% of our customers that smoke are very responsible and would never throw their butts in the ocean. However after reading your article we queried all the crews and captains and as we thought, they do have to tell people to not throw butts in the ocean. Our customers do ask what to do with their butts, even with large, visible trash cans on deck. When our crew does see someone throw a butt in the ocean they educate the customer on the negative consequences. It is rare our crew needs to do this, but what you pointed out in the article is that it’s what is unseen, and what is unseen is what we all worry about and will be addressing.

    Dana Wharf has already started taking aggressive action to remedy this pollution problem. We are coming from a standpoint of assuming customers don’t know the negative consequences or the regulations. They will be educated in numerous ways and given clear options for proper disposal. If a customers refuses to adhere to our smoking rules we will ask that customer to no longer fish with us.

    These new measures will help the problem and ultimately educate our customers and others visiting the Harbor. Outreach is our strongest tool as already stated by one of your readers. This is just one of the reasons Dana Wharf sponsors the annual Coastal Cleanup Day and Cigarette Butt Roundup in the Harbor. We know cigarette butts are the biggest litter problem our precious ocean faces and we are advocates for correcting this problem.

    The Management Team at Dana Wharf

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    • It is common practice for smokers in vehicles where an ashtray is also located to throw their cigarette butts out the window. Do you honestly think the smokers on board your vessel are going to dispose of their cigarette butts in a trash can when disposing of it overboard is much easier? Why not ban smoking on board 100%. You have lost my business and any business of those who will listen to me.

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  3. I liked the fact that you proposed some actions and you carried my interest to the end of the article to see what your conclusions would be.

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  4. Cigarette filters are the worst, even here on the islands it used to be prevalent on the beaches, now getting less so through education and no smoking laws on beaches. It would take few seconds of captain’s time to instruct the people to use ashtrays before embarking on the journey.

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  5. Carisa that was a thoughtful and very informative article. As a swimmer it makes me ill when I see the trash inconsiderate self involved stupid people leave on the beaches and throw in the oceans. A $10,000 fine would be a good start !

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  6. Cigarettes kill brain cells, perhaps after years of sucking cigs the smokers who trash their butts don’t know any better because they are so stupid.

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  7. I had no idea that I was impacting sea life by throwing cigarettes overboard. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I am disgusted with myself.

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  8. As a lifelong angler in both salt and fresh water, I must tell you that this has been a pet peeve for me for many years. During many of my past years spent out of doors, particularly on bodies of water, I myself have been a smoker. I enjoy it; I know it’s an awful, stupid, horrifying and disgusting habit, but I enjoy an occasional cigarette or cigar when I’m fishing.
    The thought of leaving any trace of my nasty habit in the sea, stream, field or river is something I detest, and therefore never did. How can any lover of nature, while enjoying all she has to offer, be mindless enough to throw ANY trash whatsoever into the water. I think it’s mostly mindlessness; like so many other human traits that get me going, this is just one of many examples. It’s simple enough to either break off the lit tip and discard the rest, or snub it out on the bottom of your shoe and throw it in the trash where in belongs.

    I think dumping any trash into the sea (or anywhere for that matter) should carry a $10,000 fine and be treated exactly like we treat boaters for discharging waste over the side from their lavatory. Any public vessel should be required to have at least one, wind proof cigarette receptacle per 5 passengers that it’s licensed to carry.

    It’s responsible stewardship of a struggling ocean (all of nature really) that needs all the help it can get.

    The larger problem with cigarettes into the sea is not fisherman, but all land locked smokers who casually toss their butts into the curb (by the millions, by the way) only to have it washed to the sea through storm drains. I think it’s time to get serious about designing a finer screening method for what washes to the sea through our city streets. This will no doubt
    require more vigilant maintenance and newer systems designed, but it would result in a healthier
    Ocean environment.

    Better yet, stop the production and sale of cigarettes. Let me suck vapor…

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