SAN DIEGO— After two dead fin whales were found on the hull of a military destroyer in San Diego, California on May 8, the Center for Biological Diversity sent the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Navy a letter today demanding the agencies consult on ways to avoid killing endangered whales. The Center’s letter warned the agencies it will be forced to sue if they fail to do so.
“These dead whales are grisly proof of the Navy’s dire ongoing threat to vulnerable marine mammals. We’re asking the Biden administration to find a better balance of marine protection with military readiness,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center. “Ship strikes are a top threat to endangered whales, but these tragedies can be avoided by slowing down through whale habitat.”
The mother fin whale and her calf were apparently killed by an Australian destroyer, which carried their bodies back to port, unaware of the collision, during military exercises with the U.S. Navy off the coast of San Diego. The Center has raised many concerns over the years about plans and permits for Navy training in the Pacific, which harms and harasses marine mammals millions of times per year with ship strikes, sonar and explosions.
Vessel strikes are a leading cause of whale deaths in California. The Center sued the federal government over its failure to protect endangered whales from speeding ships in January and filed a federal petition last month seeking a mandatory 10-knot speed limit.
Today’s letter requests the Fisheries Service and Navy consider these new deaths and other new information to ensure better mitigation measures are in place and the agencies comply with the Endangered Species Act. The letter also asks the Fisheries Service to re-examine its conclusion that the Navy’s activities will have no more than a negligible impact on endangered whales.
Federal records document at least 26 whales killed by vessel strikes along the West Coast from 2014 through 2018. That makes vessel strikes one of the leading human-induced causes of death of large whales. Recent studies have found vessel strikes are even more lethal than previously understood: Scientists say the actual number of vessel-strike deaths could be 20 times larger than documented, since most dead whales sink.
The Navy operates under a five-year permit approved in 2018 for Pacific military exercises from Southern California to Hawai‘i that predicts it could kill, injure or harass whales, dolphins and other marine mammals 12.5 million times. That includes 9,248 instances of harm to blue whales and the injuring of 3,346 marine mammals, including 20 humpback whales. The permit was extended in 2020 for another two years, allowing the Navy to conduct activities and harm more marine mammals until 2025.