By DON HUNTER
Anchorage Daily News
January 24, 2007
A court date to finalize a plea is set for Monday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
According to documents filed last week, Princess is expected to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor of "failing to operate at a slow, safe speed while near humpback whales" around July 12, 2001.
The documents indicate that the company would pay a $200,000 fine to the government and $550,000 in "community service restitution" to the National Park Service Foundation, court papers say. That money would go to an account for Glacier Bay National Park. A Princess spokeswoman, Julie Benson, confirmed that the company plans to plead guilty, but said she could add little now.
The body of a 45-foot female humpback was found floating near the mouth of Glacier Bay on July 16, 2001. A necropsy showed the animal died of massive skull fractures, and that it was pregnant with a 4- to 5-month-old fetus, according to news accounts at the time. A distinctive marking on the whale's fluke identified her as one first sighted in Seymour Canal as an adult in 1979.
Suspicion quickly turned to cruise ships that frequent Glacier Bay National Park in summertime.
The Dawn Princess, an 856-foot vessel with a capacity of 1,950 passengers and 900 crew, had encountered a pair of humpbacks after it left the national park, company officials said in 2001.
"We have made inquiries on board, and while we have no clear evidence that our ship and a whale came into contact, we cannot exclude this possibility either," the company said in a statement then.
Humpback whales are listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act and by the state of Alaska. The North Pacific population feeds on krill and small fish in northern waters from California to Alaska's Chukchi Sea in the summer, and winters in tropical waters off Hawaii and Mexico.
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Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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