Simple school project becomes political debate

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A whale or a dolphin? That's the question South Carolina lawmakers are trying to decide.

They're debating which should be the state's official marine mammal.

What started as a school's pet project, has moved into the cold, chilly deep waters of political debate.

Two different bills, S272 and S333, have been put up for debate to decide the state's official marine mammal.

The first calling for the northern Right Whale be designated as the state's official marine mammal and the other suggestion being the bottlenose dolphin.

The right whale migrates during the winter months from New England into the warm, shallow waters along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts for reproduction and calving.

They are considered endangered because of their frequent run-in's with fisherman's nets and ships.

Students and teachers at Alice Drive Elementary School in Sumter feel a special connection to the right whale.

It started with the art teacher's mural in the cafeteria. Soon after, facts and figures about the whale are incorporated into the school's curriculum from Art and English to Math and Music.

Now, they are also learning a tough lesson about politics, as they try to push making the right whale the state's official marine mammal and bring awareness to the gentle giant.

"They mate on the coast of South Carolina and we don't want them to get hurt anymore. We think if they become our state marine mammal, people will be alert," said Granger Rabon, a 5th grader at Alice Drive Elementary.

Two state senators oppose the designation being given to the right whale and instead, give it to the bottlenose dolphin.

Senator Chip Campsen, who is from Charleston and makes a compelling argument, says the designation should be given to the dolphin because it is recognizable and indigenous to our waters.

And Senator Paul Campbell, also part of the Charleston delegation, denied there is any pressure from the state's ports authority to slight the whale because it would mean a change in shipping lanes.

Both bills are in a Senate judiciary subcommittee and the students simply ask you call your state senator and let him know how you feel.

Reported by Hannah Horne

Posted by Jeremy Turnage