Eight years ago the COSCO Nagoya, a giant ship capable of carrying more than 4,000 cargo containers, was motoring around the Chesapeake Bay when it ran into a speed trap.
Three months later, the Nagoya got dinged again for speeding, this time near the Port of Charleston. Over the next several months, the Nagoya was caught 13 more times up and down the East Coast, from South Carolina to New York. Each speeding violation came with a price tag of $5,750 for a total of $86,250 in fines.
Why? The faster a ship goes, the more likely it is to collide with a whale.
The speeding law was put in place just over a decade ago to protect the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered marine species in the world. Just an estimated 411 remain. The whale — dark in color and lacking a dorsal fin, thus hard to see — has a history of humans pushing it to the brink of extinction.
When commercial whaling was still legal, whalers had a relatively easy time towing their blubbery carcasses to shore. Hence the name — they were the "right whale" to kill.
|Right Whale killed by ship strike
Today, the whale's main threats come from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear.$5,750 for a speeding ticket? That'll get your attention.
Most say the speeding restriction — no faster than 10 knots in high-risk areas, roughly half the speed container ships can travel while out on the open ocean — has successfully reduced whale strikes in the United States. But the law could be improved, watchdogs say, by expanding the zones where the speed limit is enforced. And similarly strict rules are also needed in Canada, they say, where a large number of dead right whales have recently turned up.
Said Jane Davenport, a senior staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit conservation group in Washington: "It doesn't take a North Atlantic right whale scientist to know that these deaths are devastating for the species."