Mark Dagostino
July 15, 2009 08:02 PM

To say Minnie Driver is passionate about sea creatures is an understatement.

“Having my son and swimming with humpback whales were the two most religious experiences in my life,” says the actress, who gave birth to son Henry last September and dove in the open ocean with 50-ton whales for a documentary back in 2006.

So when the chance came up to volunteer and lend her name this summer to a new campaign aimed at rescuing marine wildlife, she dove right in. “I was raised to believe that we are custodians of this planet,” says the actress, 39, who spent time last month feeding distressed seals and sea lions at California’s Marine Mammal Center and is now acting as the spokesperson for Dawn’s Everyday Wildlife Champions.

“This opportunity … brought [together] something as everyday as Dawn [dish] liquid with this Marine Mammal Center that I have worked with and that I love,” says Driver. “It just seemed like a great marriage.”

“Celebrity is such a weird thing. It can really shine a light on stuff,” says Driver, who notes that money raised through the campaign will go towards both the MMC and the International Bird Rescue Research Center. People can make donations to the campaign by simply buying a bottle of Dawn. But awareness is what Driver is after: if someone just Googles one of the centers because of her involvement, she says, “That’s a good thing!”

While volunteering at the MMC, Driver discovered that harbor seals and sea lions are increasingly being treated for malnourishment. Apparently, she says, seaweed beds have become so polluted that the fish that feed in them have become tainted with toxic chemicals and disease. So sea lions and harbor seals have stopped eating the fish they normally depend on to live.

“These marine mammals are going, ‘You know what? I don’t want to get sick and die, so I’m just not going to eat them.’ This is a trend that they’ve seen growing, which I thought was sort of terrifying,” Driver says. “They are so beautiful. My god, these creatures. I see seals all the time when I’m surfing. I’m out there on the ocean appreciating and loving it. People love to walk by the ocean. But we’ve just forgotten that the stuff we pour down our sinks ends up in the sea.”

As part of the Everyday Wildlife Champions program, Driver is encouraging others concerned about the plight of marine wildlife to join a new Facebook page dedicated to connecting like-minded individuals.

“We just have to remember that we’re at the top of the food chain. And as Spiderman says, ‘With power comes great responsibility,’ ” says Driver, chuckling at herself. “I don’t know why I quoted Spiderman there, but it seems quite appropriate. We’ve got to do stuff or our kids are not going to have animals left or any oceans that we can swim in.”

And she’s honored to teach her little guy the importance of supporting wildlife and the environment. “What I feel so excited about is imparting that to my child,” says Driver. “We as parents can pass on this knowledge and get kids involved because for the most part, kids love animals.”

After swimming with whales, and feeding toxin-free fish to seals and sea lions, she says, “I wish I could do more. I don’t feel like I do enough.”

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