How do you put a price on a humpback whale?
I don't know, but Prince Cruise Lines has been ordered to pony up three-quarters of a million dollars after pleading guilty this past Monday to failing to safely operate one of its cruise ships near two humpbacks in the waters off Glacier Bay National Park.
Four days after the Dawn Princess left the area back in 2001, the bloated carcass of a pregnant whale was found in the area.
"It had died of massive blunt trauma injuries to the right side of the head, including a fractured skull, eye socket and cervical vertebrae, all consistent with a vessel collision," states Nelson Cohen, the U.S. Attorney in Alaska.
"The whale was identified from fluke markings as 'Whale #68,' which had been sighted many times in the past and was known to have frequented the area for at least 25 years," Cohen says. "Pursuant to a plea agreement, Princess was sentenced to pay a $200,000 fine and to contribute $550,000 to the National Park Foundation as a form of community service. The funding will support marine mammal research in the park."
According to federal officials, this marks the first time a cruise ship company has been prosecuted for harming wildlife.
“As well as being a majestic and endangered species, the humpback whale is also a public symbol of Glacier Bay,” said superintendent Tomie Lee. “Protection of these resources is of paramount importance to us. So when we began to hear witness reports of a cruise-ship colliding with a whale, then learned that this particular whale, whom researchers had first identified in 1975 and nicknamed ‘Snow’ because of her fluke markings, died of injuries consistent with a ship-strike, we began a dialogue with Princess and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and proceeded diligently with our investigation, so we could be sure to get things right.
"While these kinds of criminal convictions can result in a loss of federal contracts to service visitors in a national park, in this case we feel Princess has stepped up and made significant, voluntary operational changes that protect whales and the marine environment. We are pleased that this incident is behind us and that they will continue to offer cruises in Glacier Bay.”
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the killing of humpback whales is prohibited by both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The “slow, safe speed” regulation, under which this case was charged, was implemented in 2001 to support the “anti-taking” provisions of the two laws. Thus, a knowing failure to maintain a “slow, safe speed” when near humpback whales constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and carries the identical penalties of the taking violation.
Such conduct is a federal Class A misdemeanor violation of law, punishable (for a corporation) by a fine of up to $200,000, restitution in an amount to be determined by the court, and up to five years probation (a person who violates this law is also subject to imprisonment for up to one year).