April 02, 2007
In a compromise settlement Orca Enterprises, Inc. agreed to pay $7,000 of the civil penalty with the remaining $2,000 suspended for a period of three years on the condition of no similar violations during the suspension period.
The Agency's notice charged the captain and vessel owner with harassment in August 2006, as the Juneau-based tour boat AWESOME ORCA was conducting a wildlife viewing cruise in Stephens Passage near North Pass in Southeast Alaska. During the tour, NOAA alleged that the captain maneuvered the vessel into the path of three oncoming whales, placing the vessel closer than 100 yards from the endangered humpback whales. Subsequently, one whale collided with the vessel causing one of the passengers to fall and suffer a head injury.
A specific regulation governing interactions with these whales in Alaska became effective on July 2, 2001. The regulation prohibits approaching humpback whales, by any means within 100 yards, including by interception. This regulation was promulgated under The Endangered Species Act which protects threatened and endangered species such as humpback whales. The Endangered Species Act also prohibits the disruption of normal behavior or prior activity of a humpback whale by any other act or omission.
The whale approach regulations protect the endangered whales and also have the ancillary benefit of protecting individuals and property from the potentially harmful consequences of too close interaction with these large marine mammals. "This case clearly demonstrates that failure to observe the proper whale watching restrictions can result in harm to both whales and humans," said NOAA Special Agent Scott Allee, NOAA Fisheries Service's Office of Law Enforcement - Alaska Division & investigating agent.
The case was prosecuted by
NOAA's Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation.
To report suspected violations of the Endangered Species Act
or Marine Mammal Protection Act, contact the NOAA Fisheries Service's
Office of Law Enforcement Hot Line at 800-853-1964.
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