Suit Filed to Force Coast Guard to Protect Whales From California Coast Ship Strikes

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, (E-wire Press Release) – Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Coast Guard to comply with the Endangered Species Act and protect endangered whales from ship traffic off the California coast. Last year, collisions with ships killed at least three endangered blue whales off southern California, yet the Coast Guard maintains that it need not address endangered species when setting shipping lanes and otherwise regulating ship traffic headed into U.S. ports.

The California coast provides vital feeding and migratory areas for numerous endangered whale species, including blue, humpback, sperm, and sei whales, all of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, these whales also travel through some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, including those leading to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Every year, commercial vessels racing to port strike and kill whales.

“Even a creature as gigantic as the blue whale doesn’t stand a chance against a speeding container ship that’s longer than a couple of football fields and weighs thousands of tons. We’re lucky to share our coastal waters with these amazing creatures. We need to make sure that we’re respecting their home and not mowing them down with our imported goods,” said Andrea Treece, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The U.S. Coast Guard regulates ship traffic in U.S. waters. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Coast Guard must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency directly responsible for protecting endangered whales, to ensure that the Coast Guard regulates ship traffic in a way that protects these species. However, the Coast Guard has not taken this basic step. The Center’s lawsuit aims to force the Coast Guard to analyze how ship traffic harms endangered whales species and take steps to prevent such harm.

The unprecedented number of blue whales killed by ships off California last fall is unsustainable. The blue whale is the largest animal known to have ever lived on earth. Once numbering over 300,000, the global blue whale population has been reduced by commercial whaling to likely fewer than 10,000 individuals. Blue whales off California are part of a population comprised of about 1,200 animals; scientists estimate that more than one human-caused death each year will impede the recovery of the California population.

“Ship strikes are one of the leading causes of death for large whales all over the globe, and it’s a significant threat for endangered whales trying to survive off the coast of California. The Coast Guard has the ability – and the responsibility – to protect these magnificent species by instituting mandatory speed limits, moving shipping lanes and installing monitoring buoys that alert ships to the presence of whales,” said Treece. “Assessing the effects of ship traffic on endangered whales is the critical first step toward ensuring their survival and recovery.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed speed limits for ships on the East Coast to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Last year the Center petitioned the agency to institute similar speed limits off California to protect blue whales.

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