Princess Cruise Lines paid $750,000 Monday to settle charges it failed 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, 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.
In an agreement with prosecutors, Princess, a division of Carnival Corp., pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to operate the cruise ship at a slow, safe speed while near two whales on July 12, 2001. While not admitting that one of its ships hit the whale, the company paid a maximum $200,000 fine, plus $550,000 in restitution to the National Park Foundation, with the funds specifically dedicated to Glacier Bay National Park conservation efforts.
‘Good stewards of the environment’
“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.”
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 that 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 miles per hour when in the strait south of the national park.
According to prosecutors, passengers and crew spotted two humpback whales on the afternoon of July 12, 2001, headed on a course that could intersect the ship’s route.
The Dawn Princess continued accelerating and did not change course. Within 100 yards of the cruise ship, one of the whales dove deep, but the other did not, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
As the other whale passed out of sight under the vessel’s prow, some people aboard the cruise ship reported feeling the ship shudder. The captain ran to the right bridge wing to look for the whales, but they were not seen again, prosecutors said. The captain noted that the vessel was traveling 16 mph at the time.
The Dawn Princess made no report of a possible collision to the National Park Service or other agency. The close encounter also was not mentioned in the ship’s log, and the captain did not preserve the recording of what occurred on the bridge, federal officials said.
However, the next day, the on-board ship’s naturalist e-mailed a colleague saying the ship may have struck a whale. She estimated the ship’s speed between about 17 and 20 mph.
The naturalist, who was not identified, said friends below deck told her they heard a “resounding thud.”
The dead whale was found July 16, 2001, near the area where the Dawn Princess had been traveling.
There are approximately 20,000 humpback whales worldwide. Of those, about 6,000 make up the North Pacific population, most of which feed in Alaska during the summer. They migrate to Hawaii in the fall to give birth.