Update: Princess Agrees to Pay Fine in Dead Whale Case

January 29, 2007

Update: As expected, Princess Cruises pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Anchorage today to "knowingly failing to operate its vessel the Dawn Princess at a slow, safe speed while near two humpback whales in Glacier Bay, Alaska." According to a company statement, Dawn Princess did have a "a close encounter with two humpback whales ... although we are not certain that the Dawn Princess hit the whale, based on circumstances, we have agreed to pay a $200,000 fine plus $550,000 in community service to the National Park Foundation, with the funds specifically dedicated to Glacier Bay National Park conservation efforts."

Since the incident five years ago, the cruise line has instituted clear guidelines for all vessels on operating safely in vicinity of whales, and has also instituted voluntary speed restrictions in the Icy Straits area. All captains sailing in Alaskan waters have also undergone whale avoidance training.

(January 24, 2007) -- Five years after a humpback whale was found dead with massive skull fractures near the mouth of Alaska's Glacier Bay, which is heavily trafficked by cruise ships, Princess Cruises has agreed to cough up $755,000 in fines and restitution.

Let's rewind. Way back in 2001, Cruise Critic reported that a 45-ft. female whale, which was pregnant, was discovered dead in July. Cause of death was determined to be a blunt trauma to the head.

While Dawn Princess happened to be in the area on that date (and did encounter a pair of humpbacks after it left Glacier Bay -- according to a report in the Anchorage Daily News), no conclusive evidence has been found that links the ship to the whale's death. Still, Princess is expected to plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Monday for "failing to operate at a slow, safe speed while near humpback whales".

According to the Anchorage Daily News, $200,000 of Princess' fine will be paid to the government and $550,000 -- considered "community service restitution" -- will be deposited into an account for Glacier Bay National Park, a wilderness preserve.

Humpback whales are designated as an endangered species by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. And while rundowns between whales and ships are not common, they do occur.

Last August, Celebrity Summit docked in Seward with a 25- to 30-ft. humpback on its bow; in 2004, Jewel of the Seas picked up a whale in the same manner en route to Saint John, New Brunswick (in both cases, it was unknown whether the mammals were dead beforehand or died on impact).

Princess will provide an update on Monday after its lawyers have appeared in court; we'll keep you posted.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor