Cruise Line Pays Large Fine, Restitution in Whale's Death
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Princess Cruise Lines was sentenced for failing to operate one of its ships in a slow, safe manner near Glacier Bay National Park where a humpback whale was found dead of massive skull fractures.
The body of the 45-foot (13.5-meter), pregnant humpback whale was found floating in Icy Strait near the mouth of Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska in July 2001. Humpback whales are an endangered species.
"Our marine mammals are national treasures to be preserved for future generations. We must protect them from criminal and negligent acts committed by individuals or large corporations," said Nelson Cohen, U.S. Attorney for Alaska, describing the case as a first-of-its kind prosecution.
While not agreeing Monday that one of its ships hit the whale, Princess Cruise Lines paid a maximum $200,000 (euro154,787) fine, plus $550,000 (euro425,664) in restitution to the National Park Foundation, with the funds specifically dedicated to Glacier Bay National Park conservation efforts.
"We take our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment very seriously," said Princess Cruises CEO Peter Ratcliffe. He said the company regretted "the circumstances involving Dawn Princess."
The company pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to operate the cruise ship at a slow, safe speed while near two whales on July 12, 2001. The federal regulation on speed was implemented in 2001.
Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson said this was the first time this type of encounter had occurred involving one of its ships visiting Glacier Bay National Park. Princess made 75 calls at Glacier Bay last year and plans on 84 this year.
The humpback whale that was found dead was first identified by researchers in 1975 and was named "Snow" because of her fluke markings. Her injuries were consistent with being struck by a ship, said Tomie Lee, superintendent of Glacier Bay National Park.
Princess said after the encounter with the whale it implemented guidelines for how its ships should operate when whales are near. It also instituted procedures and speed restrictions for the Icy Strait area with ships not to exceed 11.5 mph (18.5 kph) when in the strait south of the national park.
The dead whale was found July 16, 2001, near the area where the Dawn Princess had earlier been traveling.
There are approximately 20,000 humpback whales worldwide. Of those, about 6,000 humpbacks make up the North Pacific population, most of which feed in Alaska during the summer. They migrate to Hawaii in the fall where they give birth.
Source: Associated Press