LONG BEACH, Calif. April 29, 2020 — The Trump administration has agreed to examine ways to better protect endangered whales and sea turtles from being struck by ships using California ports.
Today’s decision by the U.S. Coast Guard to request consultation with wildlife officials was prompted by a letter from the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth notifying the administration that its shipping regulations violated the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
That March 2 notice letter threatened a lawsuit if officials continue to ignore evidence that a growing number of whales are being harmed by ship strikes along California’s coast. The Coast Guard is now asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to consult on new regulations that could include mandatory speed limits in shipping lanes.
“Ship strikes are killing too many endangered whales off California’s coast. It’s good to see federal officials finally addressing that threat,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center. “Science should guide how shipping lanes are selected and managed. Speed limits on our highways save lives, and we need speed limits in shipping lanes too, to protect endangered marine animals.”
Ship strikes are a leading cause of death and injuries to whales migrating along California’s coast and are more lethal than previously understood. At least 10 whales were killed by ship strikes in California in 2018, including a fin whale draped across the bow of a container ship as it entered San Francisco Bay. Federal records blame ship strikes for 88 dead whales in California since 2006.
“It is about time the Trump administration addresses the ongoing impacts whales and other aquatic life face from ships in California waters,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director with Friends of the Earth. “We must move towards common sense measures like reducing ship speeds near ports to prevent future whale deaths from ship strikes.”
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The Center and Friends of the Earth’s notice letter covers shipping lanes that access ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and along the San Francisco Bay. It calls for an update of the Fisheries Service’s 2017 biological opinion regarding the impact of ship strikes on imperiled whales and sea turtles, and for new data to inform U.S. Coast Guard rules.
Last year, the Center successfully petitioned the federal government to designate 175,812 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as critical habitat for endangered humpback whales and won new rules protecting whales from being entangled in fishing gear off California’s coast.
The Center, Friends of the Earth and their allies also contested plans to increase oil tanker traffic into San Francisco Bay that could harm whales and has long called for shipping speed limits and other maritime rules that better protect imperiled marine life.