Court rejects lawsuit to protect blue whales

The Associated Press / The San Jose Mercury News
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

By NOAKI SCHWARTZ
Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES-An environmental group lost a lawsuit
that would have forced the U.S. Coast Guard to better
protect blue whales after several were killed by ships in
the Santa Barbara Channel off Southern California.

U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney rejected an argument
by the Center for Biological Diversity that the Coast Guard
should comply with the Endangered Species Act when it
regulates ship traffic. Chesney issued a summary judgment
Monday in San Francisco.

In her decision, Chesney said that the Coast Guard’s daily
management of shipping traffic does not by itself trip up
Endangered Species Act requirements. The environmental
group failed to show that the agency is engaged in any
specific action that would require it to initiate such measures,
the judge said.

Andrea Treece, an attorney for the environmental group,
said her client has not decided whether to appeal the decision.

“It’s unfortunate the judge took such a narrow view of
what was before her,” she said.

Stephanie Young, spokeswoman for the Coast Guard in
Los Angeles, said they don’t comment on legal decisions
but added that the agency takes protecting marine animals
seriously. Following the whale deaths that prompted the
lawsuit, the Coast Guard conducted aerial monitoring of
whales and recommended that mariners reduce their
speeds in the Santa Barbara Channel.

The lawsuit was filed after three of the endangered mammals
were confirmed to have been hit by ships and another two
whale carcasses were also spotted in 2007. The incidents
around the channel caught the group’s attention because the
death toll was much higher than the acceptable level for non-
natural whale deaths, said Treece, who called the deaths
“heart-stopping.”

Less than 10,000 blue whales are left in the world’s oceans
after being reduced by whaling.

Blue whales normally pass through the channel on their way
to feed in grounds further north and are usually gone by the
end of August. In 2007, however, a large number of whales
stayed to feed in the channel, which holds some of the busiest
shipping lanes in the world.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the
National Marine Fisheries Service to set a speed limit of
10 nautical mph until all the blue whales departed. The
petition was denied, and the lawsuit was filed against the
Coast Guard.

The group argued in the lawsuit that the Coast Guard should
consult with National Marine Fisheries Service scientists to
make sure the actions it takes to regulate ship traffic don’t
harm whales.

(c) 2009 – San Jose Mercury News

URL: http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_12038307

~ by fredfelleman on March 31, 2009.

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