The Mercury News in San Jose California reports that four environmental groups filed a petition with the federal government today seeking to force cruise ships and other large vessels to slow down in waters between San Francisco and Los Angeles in order to reduce the chances of whale strikes.
A San Francisco environmental group, Pacific Environment, as well as Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Environmental Defense Center filed the petition. They are seeking to apply a speed limit of 10 knots for all vessels larger than 65 feet while sailing through California's four national marine sanctuaries.
The legal proceeding was filed against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA").
The newspaper reports that nearly 50 large whales off California have been struck by ships in the last 10 years. Around 3,500 cargo ships, oil tankers and cruise ships sail into San Francisco Bay every year, many are coming from or heading to Los Angeles, typically traveling between 13 and 25 knots.
Shipping company officials told the newspaper that they do neither support nor oppose such a speed limit, and will not commit to a position until more study is performed indicating that it can reduce collisions.
If NOAA fails to impose a speed limit, the environmental groups said that they will consider filing a lawsuit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and other laws.
In one of the most graphic photographs of a cruise ship / whale strike, in 2009 the Princess Cruises' Sapphire Princess arrived in port in Vancouver, unaware that the cruise ship impaled a fin whale on the ship's bow while in Alaskan waters (photo below). The whale was a female fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus). Princess claimed that the whale was already dead when the cruise ship hit her.
Top: John Ford / WildWhales.org
Bottom: Rex Features / Telegraph U.K.