Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 2, 2020


Brian Segee, (805) 750-8852,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered Whales in California Shipping Lanes

LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity notified the Trump administration today that it is failing to protect endangered whales and sea turtles from being struck by ships using ports in California.

The notice letter threatens a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Coast Guard if officials continue ignoring the requirements of the Endangered Species Act in agency consultations, studies and actions such as speed limits in shipping lanes or protecting critical habitat areas.

“Ship strikes kill far too many endangered whales off California’s coast, and the Trump administration can’t keep ignoring a deadly threat that’s only getting worse,” said Brian Segee, an attorney at the Center. “We want good science to determine how shipping lanes are placed and managed. Ships simply don’t need to kill as many whales and sea turtles as they do.”

Ship strikes are a leading cause of death and injuries to whales migrating along California’s coast and are more lethal than previously understood. The Center is calling for the Fisheries Service to update biological surveys of endangered blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles and better protect them from harm.

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. Scientists say the actual number could be 20 times larger, given the fact that most dead whales don’t wash ashore.

Today’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 ship strikes’ impacts on imperiled whales and sea turtles, and for new data to inform U.S. Coast Guard rules.

In 2019 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 and its allies also contested plans to increase oil-tanker traffic into San Francisco Bay that could harm whales. The group has long called for shipping speed limits and other maritime rules to better protect imperiled marine life.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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